Friday, September 4, 2009

Jury says man competent for trial in wife's killing
Published online on Friday, Sep. 04, 2009
By Pablo Lopez / The Fresno Bee

A 69-year-old Fresno man who police say has confessed to killing his wife in October is legally competent to stand trial, a Fresno County Superior Court jury has ruled.

Pech Sok is an uneducated Cambodian refugee who knows little English and has lived a miserable life, lawyers told jurors this week during Sok's competency hearing. He was tortured in Cambodia and his first wife died there, the lawyers said.

He hasn't fared much better in Fresno. In August 1998, Sok's second wife, Eng Ath, and two of the couple's children, Sophan and Sopheap, drowned in the San Joaquin River while fishing.

Now, Sok is charged with killing his third wife, Bouen Say, 61, who was stabbed to death at the couple's home in the 400 block of South Woodrow Avenue on Oct. 1. After the attack, police said, Sok cut himself with a knife.

Prosecutor Jeff Dupras told jurors that it was OK to feel sorry for Sok "but it can't cloud your judgment."

Sok has already confessed to police that he killed his wife because she was leaving him, Dupras said. "He knows what he did and he expects to be punished," Dupras said.

The hearing in Judge Gary Orozco's courtroom, however, wasn't to determine whether he was guilty of the crime, Dupras said. It was to determine whether he could understand the court proceedings and assist in his defense.

Psychologist Laura Geiger and Harold Seymour testified that they examined Sok in jail and determined he was legally incompetent because he had problems with his memory and signs of dementia.

His problems stem from being tortured in Cambodia and knocked out several times, attorney Manuel Nieto, who represented Sok, told the panel. Nieto argued that Sok should be sent to a Atascadero State Hospital for treatment.

Dr. Julian Smith, a psychiatrist, however, testified that Sok declined to be evaluated by him, but nevertheless showed enough signs of competency to stand trial.

Dupras told the panel that Sok doesn't have a diagnosed mental disorder. He also said that just because Sok doesn't want to assist his counsel, that doesn't give him the legal grounds to be declared incompetent.

Since his wife's killing, Dupras said, Sok's attitude has been: "Just put me in jail and leave me alone."

After hearing the legal arguments, the jury deliberated about an hour before announcing late Wednesday that Sok was legally competent. Sok's preliminary hearing is now scheduled for Sept. 30.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6434.

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