The Supreme Court on Monday heard the appeal of two men who have been sentenced to 13 years behind bars for beating a reporter to death in Kampong Chhnang province’s Cholkiri district.

Ra Rom and Sang Sieng Eang are among five convicts accused of killing 44-year-old Suon Chan at a drinking gathering in Peam Chhkork commune in December 2014.

During the trial on Monday, the reporter’s wife, Tieng Thav, said her husband worked for the Meakea Cambodia news agency. Before the murder in 2014, she said, her husband took some photos as evidence of an alleged fishery crime, though she was not sure if any of the convicts were involved.

Citing the accounts of her son who was present at the crime scene, she said that on December 31, 2014, her husband was drinking palm juice with several friends when the two and the other three convicts – Yim Nak, Yim Non, and Yong Sie Leng – arrived and hurled rocks at them.

When the reporter left, he was attacked by the five with bamboo sticks and severely wounded. Chan later succumbed to his injuries at the provincial referral hospital.

The court report said the five fled the scene after the attack but were later arrested and sent to court.

On November 11, 2015, the provincial court sentenced the five in absentia to 13 years in prison for premeditated murder under Article 200 of the Criminal Code and ordered each to pay five million riel ($1,250) to the victim’s family to cover medical and funeral expenses, and an additional 600,000 riel in compensation.

The Appeal Court upheld their verdicts on December 5, 2017. Only Rom and Sieng Eang later filed an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Chhuon Sithan, their defence lawyer, pleaded for a lighter sentence at the Supreme Court hearing. “There are doubts in this case that could be cited to reduce their sentence,” he said.

He argued mitigating circumstances, saying it was an altercation and not premeditated murder. “Yorng Sie Leng was the perpetrator. I think that it was just a brawl, so I ask the court to reverse the charge from premeditated murder to use of violence causing injuries,” he said.

However, Supreme Court prosecutor Veng Bun Thoeun said the court based its conclusion on eyewitnesses’ accounts.

“The Appeal Court’s decision to uphold the provincial court’s verdicts was made in accordance with the law. I ask the court to uphold the sentence,” he said.

Presiding Judge Khem Bun said the verdict will be announced on August 2.