BANGKOK — The last Ananchai Chaiyadech saw of his neighbor, a disabled man named Somkiat Srichan, he was being cornered and repeatedly stabbed by three men wielding knives.
“He was looking at me,” Ananchai, a lawyer by trade, told a packed courtroom Tuesday. “I could see in his eyes that he was pleading to me. He wanted me to help. But I couldn’t intervene.”
Moments later Somkiat, who could not use his right leg, was slashed in the throat just as police officers arrived at the scene. He soon collapsed and died in the arms of his nephew.
The killing in the morning of May 1, 2016, shocked the nation after footage of the deadly assault made its way to social media. Online fury also broke out when it emerged that some of the suspects were sons of police officers. The three men and their alleged accomplices – altogether six men and one woman – are now standing trial in a Bangkok court.
Ananchai’s testimony to the court Tuesday marked the first day of the trial. Prosecutors are pursuing counts of murder, which carry the death penalty, but defense lawyers argue the killing was a result of a mutual fight turned violent, pointing to residual yaba found on Somkiat’s body.
The seven suspects are Arin Yodponganan, 21; Peerapol Yodponganan, 21; Monmanat Sangpho, 23; Akkaradet Thatsana, 24; Mek Polkraisorn, 20; Natnicha Ritlamlert, 20; and Jatuporn Chansopha, 19.
The incident took place in front of the bakery where Somkiat worked, in an alley off Soi Chokechai 4 in Ladphrao district. Ananchai, whose law office is located a stone’s throw away, was considered a key witness because he saw Somkiat’s last moments.
‘They Took Turns Hurting Him’
Speaking to judges, Ananchai said someone at his office told him Somkiat was being assaulted. He rushed outside at about 9am to see the disabled bakery worker being cornered by Peerapol, his brother Arin and Akkaradet in front of Pang Hom bakery shop.
Somkiat was feebly swinging a blade used for cutting bread to keep the three men at bay, while the three men switched two knives among each other and repeatedly charged at Somkiat to slash at him, the witness said.
“They were taking turns. They stabbed him and they taunted him. They were handing the knives to each other,” Ananchai said. “They took turns hurting him.”
Jatuporn and Mek were keeping their distance not far from the trio; Ananchai said they seemed poised to help the three if they faltered.
Footage of the incident shows Somkiat trying to hop away from his assailants with his one good leg.
Throughout the assault, Arin was picking up bricks and stones and throwing them at the victim, Ananchai said. He added that Arin’s girlfriend, Natnicha, was screaming obscenities and urging her friends to murder Somkiat.
“Get him. Get him and kill him,” the witness quoted Natnicha as saying.
Police officers soon arrived at the scene, but any relief Ananchai felt quickly turned to horror. Ananchai said the three men continued to assault Somkiat even as policemen shouted at them to stop.
He said one of them eventually dealt the fatal blow by slashing at Somkiat’s throat.
The assault only ended after a policeman decided to fire a shot in the air. Peerapol and Arin were allowed to go to hospital unaccompanied for the slight injuries they received, while the rest of the suspects were ordered to lie down on the ground and handcuffed.
While police were arresting the suspects, Ananchai said he walked to Somkiat, who was soaked in blood. He was on the ground, being cradled in the arms of his nephew, Matus Phonprasert, as he died.
“I need water. I can’t breathe,” Ananchai recounted Somkiat’s last words.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
The altercation reportedly first began when four of the defendants walked past Somkiat’s bakery shop and made a sneer about his bread, which led to a heated exchange of words.
Video footage of the incident showed Somkiat rushing into the shop and fetching a blade to scare off the assailants. Ananchai said the blade, 31-inch long, was usually used by Somkiat to cut bread.
Peerapol and Arin later arrived on motorcycles and brought knives with them, Ananchai told the court.
Somkiat’s death drew widespread attention not only because of the video footage that captured the moments of his killing, but also because police did not initially take action against the suspects.
It later emerged that Peerapol, Arin, Monmanat and Mek were sons of police officers – Mek’s father even worked at the police station that oversees the investigation – fueling allegations on social media that police were shielding the four suspects from the full force of the law.
Following online uproar, police charged all of the suspects with murder and other offenses related to the assault. Natnicha – who was not directly involved in the killing – was also charged with being accessory to murder.
Defense lawyer Kompet Chanpoon denied allegations that his clients were receiving any privilege from the police.
He pointed to the fact that all suspects have been repeatedly denied a bail release by the court – an exception to legal cases that involve those with connections to the authorities.
“Their fathers didn’t help at all,” Kompet said during a court recess. “If their fathers did, why would they be in jail for the whole year?”
Attack Not One-Sided?
Despite a packed courtroom – mostly with law students and interns observing the procedure – and the extensive coverage in weeks following the killing, only one reporter was present at today’s session. Family members of the accused also attended the trial.
Kompet did not dispute that his clients were involved in the killing, but he said the tragic events resulted from a fight between Somkiat and the young men.
The lawyer said his team would argue to the court that the defendants should be punished on a lesser charge of manslaughter. He said he hoped the seven suspects would be given a “three or four year” prison sentence instead of the death penalty.
During the witness cross examination, Kompet said he possessed video evidence that shows Somkiat riding a motorcycle toward the direction where the defendants had been hanging out earlier that morning. He suggested the two parties might have taunted each other prior to the altercation.
Kompet also pointed to an autopsy report that found traces of methamphetamine in Somkiat’s body.
“He was high on yaba,” the lawyer said.
The trial continues through July 26. The defendants are scheduled to take the stand on Friday.