Sok Sam Oeun (C) cries at the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012.
Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Rights groups criticised the verdict from the start, saying the men were set up to take the fall for a political assassination. Years later, the disgraced former municipal police chief Heng Pov confirmed as much, saying in an interview with French newsmagazine L'Express in 2006 that the men had been framed for a murder that was a government-ordered conspiracy.
The reams of exculpatory evidence did little to help either man this morning.
Reading out the verdict, Judge Chuon Sunleng said that despite the inconsistencies between witness and suspect testimony highlighted by the Supreme Court, the reinvestigation corroborated the original findings: the pair had, in fact, committed the murder.
In addition to 20 years imprisonment, both men were ordered to pay 40 million riel to Chea Mony, brother of Chea Vichea and current FTU president.
As the men were led from the court to the prosecutor’s office for processing this morning, Samnang began sobbing uncontrollably, pushing against the police who, at the start of the trial, had quietly entered the court room.
“Why are you doing this?” he screamed. “Why?”
For the past four years – as the politically sensitive case has bounced from the Appeal Court to the Municipal Court and back, as verdict after verdict has been delayed - the men had attempted to carve out fresh lives in spite of the conviction that hung over their heads.
Ten minutes after the pair had been escorted up the stairs and into the office to sign away another 15 years of their lives, Sam Oeun’s wife came running up.
With one arm, she wiped back tears. With another, she clutched their baby daughter.
“My husband is the breadwinner in the family,” she said.