Five months after the fatal shooting of forestry activist Chut Wutty, Koh Kong Provincial Court dropped his case yesterday morning, saying they would only be looking into the shooting of the man who allegedly killed Wutty – a trial that wound up lasting less than two hours.
Speaking at the start of the long-awaited hearing, deputy provincial prosecutor Srey Makny announced that the court had split the case into two parts and that there would be no hearing on the first: that of the murder of Wutty.
“We will not take any legal procedure on the murder case of Chut Wutty, because the murderer was also shot to death. Thus, the complaint is annulled,” he told the court.
Instead, yesterday’s speedy trial covered only the case of Ran Boroth, who stands accused of the unintentional murder of Wutty’s killer.
Wutty, an outspoken environmental campaigner, was gunned down on April 26 at Veal Bei point in Mondul Seima’s Bak Khlang commune, while leading two journalists on an investigation of logging firm Timbergreen. A military police officer, In Rattana, was also shot to death.
Over the course of several days, authorities offered a series of bizarre and shifting explanations, eventually settling on a scenario in which Rattana shot Wutty following a heated argument and Boroth – hoping to protect the journalists with whom Wutty was travelling – accidentally shot Rattana while trying to disarm him.
During a trial that lasted just one and a half hours, witnesses, lawyers and the defendant himself yesterday offered statements that hewed perfectly to that story.
Boroth, who worked as a security guard for Timbergreen, told the court that when Wutty refused to stop taking photos of a company building, he called for assistance from Rattana and two other military police officers – So Sopheap and Bun Chhorn.
The men began arguing with Wutty, telling him to hand over the camera’s memory card. When he refused and tried to drive away, Rattana shot at him. Boroth, in turn, went to grab at the rifle and “accidentally touched the trigger and two bullets were accidentally shot at In Rattana. I just tried to intervene because of the outburst of Rattana’s furiousness and didn’t want the situation to get worse”.
“I plead for the court to reduce the weight of punishment, because I unintentionally killed him,” added Boroth.
Police Lieutenant General Mok Chito, who headed the joint investigation committee appointed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, echoed Boroth’s statement, testifying that his investigation determined Boroth’s actions had been purely altruistic.
“I was very regretful, but at least we found that In Rattana is the killer. I strongly support the court acquitting Ran Boroth, because if he hadn’t intervened with In Rattana, the two female journalists would have been injured,” he said.
But while Boroth’s actions appeared widely agreed upon, little light was shed on those of Rattana. Military police officer Sopheap testified there was a fight over Wutty’s memory card, but said he hadn’t seen the shooting.
“I think that the firing was to threaten him not to go ahead, but I don’t know who actually opened fire,” he said.
And though prosecutors made it clear from the start that the Wutty case was closed as far as the court was concerned, the lack of revelations concerning his murder struck his family and court monitors as suspect.
“We still have doubt and cannot accept [the outcome], because this case was likely to be obstructed since the beginning,” said Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator at rights group Licadho.
Koh Kong provincial coordinator for Adhoc, Neang Boratino, noted that key eyewitnesses didn’t participate in the case, while the court appeared to avoid including other relevant players, such as the superiors of those involved.
“Both dead people didn’t receive complete justice. We call for more investigation to find out who was giving the orders, because there is a boss at the workplace, and we cannot do everything on our own,” he said.
For Wutty’s wife, Sam Chanthy, the trial proved deeply dispiriting.
“I don’t want my husband to have passed away without seeing justice,” she said, adding that it was highly convenient for the court to appoint all blame on a dead man and urged further investigation.
“I insist that the court seeks justice for my husband.”
The verdict is due on Monday.