To date, Ny Nourn’s life story is a sad one to tell, mainly because she spent much of it without any real freedom.
Convicted for her role in the murder of her boss in 1998, Nourn found herself behind bars for 16 long years until she was granted parole in January.
But that freedom was short-lived — she hadn’t even stepped out of the gates when an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took her by the arms and legs.
The ICE wants to send her her “back” to Cambodia, a country she has never set foot in. A judge previously ruled that she cannot be deported.
Born in Thailand to a Cambodian mother, Nourn first came to the U.S. at the age of 5 as refugees and settled with her mother as refugees in Florida.
Unfortunately, her tragic life appears to have started when they moved to San Diego, where Nourn’s mother met a man who became her stepfather. The couple’s relationship turned into a classic case of domestic violence. Her mother became abusive towards her, saying that she wished she was never born.
It was at the age of 16 when Nourn found a temporary escape in the world of online dating. A year later, she met 34-year-old Ron Barker, a moment that would eventually destroy her future.
Nourn and Barker became a couple. However, six months into their relationship, things started to change. Barker became manipulative, threatening to force Nourn to cut off her finger to prove her loyalty, eventually threatening to kill her if she decided to leave him.
After turning 18, Nourn started working for a dating service where she met 38-year-old David Stevens — her boss — who expressed interest in her.
The young Nourn thought she could get away with having sex with Stevens as long as Barker didn’t know.
Barker, however, confronted her and she admitted to the affair. He proposed that the only way for them to stay together is by killing Stevens, threatened to kill her too if she did not cooperate.
Nourn recalled the events in an interview with Broadly in August:
“I felt so powerless. He was not going to let me out of his car until I agreed. He had already put his hands on me and raped me.”
Barker coerced Nourn into meeting Stevens out in the open and shot him twice in the head — Nourn kept this information secret for three years out of fear. When she finally reported it to authorities, she was arrested along with Barker.
Nourn was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003. Proving that she suffered from Battered Women’s Syndrome, she appealed over an initial sentence to life without parole and received 15 years instead.
Barker, on the other hand, was sentenced to life.
At the time of her trial, Nourn was depicted as the bloodthirsty accomplice who lured Stevens to his death. As Truthout put it, several TV shows and articles “demonized” her, while netizens cited such shows when describing her as “evil,” “horrible” or “a disgusting piece of crap.”
There was barely was a voice apart from her defenders, that took into account the years she suffered from abuse and how much it affected her. Yet she was quickly and harshly convicted for Barker’s crime and influence, which begs the question of how she being a minority led to her conviction.
It may even be argued that Asian stereotypes, particularly of the model minority, played a role in her harsh conviction, making it easier to assume she was more of a willing accomplice to the crime rather than a manipulated victim of abuse.
The grim details of her life’s story would not be highlighted until recently, when she was finally released from prison but only to be detained once again by ICE.
Zooming out, these repercussions are too much for a high schooler who just turned 18 and was forced into a crime by an abusive man twice her age.
Sending Nourn, now 36, to Cambodia will very clearly prevent her from rebuilding her life. Thankfully, more and more people are now seeing her case through a clearer lens, eager to help her attain real freedom. For one, a crowdfunding page at YouCaring was set up to help raise her bond that would free her from ICE.
Nourn may have lost much of her freedom unjustly, but now is the time we can all stand beside her in truth and solidarity.