For Paul Ea, the evening of May 24, 2007, and the next day have stayed fresh in his mind as he and his family sat through court hearings and grieved the death of his former wife Nisay Kang, who died at the hands of a man she often helped.
Ea is moving forward with his life while maintaining his tight-knit Cambodian family, getting remarried in early 2010 to Mey Kim, a woman to whom he was introduced by Kang’s sister and a friend with whom he became acquainted in their native Cambodia nearly three years ago. Ea and Kim gave birth to a son, Alexander, on July 12. Ea also has watched his and Kang’s daughter, Alisa, now 13, grow up sometimes asking about her mother, and asking Ea what her mother would want her to be as she practices piano and violin and does well in school.
Yet, Ea, a resident of Chandler, knows Wednesday will be perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome in helping to close a chapter in his life as Jesus Arturo Martinez, the man who beat and stabbed Kang, 36, to death inside the convenience store she owned and operated at the former Peaks of Papago Park apartment complex in east Phoenix, will be sentenced for her death. Arturo Martinez pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery-related offenses Aug. 25 in connection with Kang’s death and avoided a trial. He will be sentenced before a jury in Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie’s courtroom and still could face the death penalty.
Ea and his daughter, Alisa, now 13, will speak inside McMurdie’s courtroom, reading impact statements as will Arturo Martinez’s relatives.
“I’ve been writing it,” said Ea, surrounded by pictures in his house of the life he once knew and his present life that he is settling into. “It’s hard to put that emotion on paper. It’s been rough. We can only give our feelings about losing Nisay and not anything about the trial. It’s rough for us to keep from saying stuff like that. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I shouldn’t open my mouth. Every time I feel a little better, another hearing comes or something happens that everything keeps coming back.”
On the evening of May 24, Ea went to the apartment complex at 815 N. 52nd St. to meet Nisay at the store inside the 768-unit complex on the Scottsdale-Tempe border.
“She just looked at me and said, ‘Let’s go shopping,’ ” Ea said. “She was working a lot of hours in the store, so we just closed and went to Walmart. We shopped for a little bit, but we were tired and we went home, ate dinner and went to bed.”
Then, the next morning, as Ea got ready to go to work at General Dynamics in Scottsdale, he said Nisay was lying in bed, so he didn’t bother to wake her up.
“I just let her sleep,” Ea said. “That was the last time I saw my wife alive.”
A few hours later, Ea received a telephone call at work from Phoenix police informing him they had to talk to him in person because something had happened to Nisay inside the store.
“I thought they were calling me about the robbery at the Circle K around the corner that happened a few days earlier,” he said. “When they said something happened to Nisay, my heart dropped. I thought she was hurt. I said, if she’s in the hospital, let me know which one so I can go see her. But, the officer told me that he had to talk to me in person, that it was more serious than that.”
Kang, who had owned the store for about four months, died of blunt- and sharp-force trauma to the head and neck, according to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office. Arturo Martinez, who was unemployed and was given merchandise by Kang when he couldn’t pay for it, had forced her inside the store the morning of May 25 as she was preparing to open. He told Phoenix police he was “drugged up” and went into the store to “take her money,” according to a Phoenix police report. He admitted to stabbing Kang with a pair of scissors after beating her with his fists inside the shop. He had pushed the candy and potato chip racks up against the doors so Kang couldn’t get out. Moments later, he was seen by a witness leaving the store, carrying Kang’s purse containing $498 in blood-stained currency that police later confiscated from the apartment Arturo Martinez was sharing with a friend at the complex, now called Red Mountain Villas.
Near the time of Nisay’s death, Ea told the Tribune that he would forgive Arturo Martinez when they stuck the needle in his arm and he took his last breath.
A Buddhist who grew up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Ea said that while Buddhism teaches love and compassion, he and his relatives "cannot follow the Buddha teaching" when it comes to Arturo Martinez and wants him to get the death penalty.
“He has never said anything to me, he has never apologized,” said Ea, who has attended many of the hearings involving Arturo Martinez. “He won’t even look at my face.”
Ea and Kang, who were married for 11 years, had come to the United States from Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia. Their fathers both died during the violent Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s, and the couple was seeking a better life. Kang was fulfilling her dream of running her own business so they could be better off in their golden years. Soon after Kang’s death, Ea sold the store.
Although the tragedy remains on his family’s mind, Ea believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. He said after the sentencing, he may move to Oregon if he can receive a promotion with General Dynamics when the job becomes available. He said he very much loves his current wife, Mey, who works with his sister and aunt for a company in Tempe assembling aircraft parts and electronics.
“She’s calm,” Ea said. “She’s mellow. That’s what I need in my life.”
“We’re like any concerned parents,” he added. “We sleep with one eye open, but Alex is a good boy and Alisa is doing well in school and now is taller than her mom. And I’m happy, very happy. I’m looking forward to the sentencing being over so I can fully enjoy my life and family the way I should.”
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