THE SUPREME COURT on Wednesday sentenced to 37 years and four months in jail a man found to be the “popcorn gunman” involved in an anti-government rally aimed at blocking elections in February 2014.
Wiwat Yodprasit, 28, was convicted by the court for the shooting at the Lak Si intersection in Bangkok’s Lak Si district.
The area was under a state of emergency declared after anti-government protesters threatened to obstruct voting at different polling stations and the intersection was the scene of a volatile stand-off between pro- and anti-government demonstrators.
The suspect was called “popcorn gunman” due to the image of a masked person holding a rifle in a large empty bag of popcorn seeds with the gun’s muzzle sticking out of a hole in the bag. Many images and video recordings of his actions at the intersection appeared in the mainstream media and on the Internet.
The masked gunman was believed to be one of the security guards protecting protesters affiliated with the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, which at that time held street rallies in Bangkok against the government led by Yingluck Shinawatra. Wearing a balaclava while in action, the gunman fired shots into a department store near the intersection, seriously injuring four people, one of whom later died. The deceased man was identified as Akaew Saeliew, 72, whose daughter Uangfa became a co-plaintiff in the case along with public prosecutors.
Wiwat was charged with murder, attempted murder, possessing a firearm and ammunition without permission, and carrying the gun and bullets in a public place against the law and the emergency decree.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the Appeals Court verdict acquitting Wiwat. The top court ruled that video footage and photos posted online, which had been produced by the prosecution during the trial, were sufficient to establish that the defendant and the masked gunman were the same person. The defendant’s brother also delivered a damning testimony to the court, saying the masked gunman in the footage resembled Wiwat, the verdict said.
In March 2016, a lower court found the evidence produced by the prosecution and by police officers on duty were convincing.
The court was convinced that Wiwat was the masked gunman involved in the 2014 shooting. The court initially sentenced him to life imprisonment but later reduced the jail term to 37 years and four months due to his confession deemed to be beneficial to the trial. The convict appealed against the verdict.
In June last year, the Appeals Court acquitted Wiwat, giving him the benefit of the doubt. The court said the prosecution had failed to bring the witnesses who had taken the photos and videos of the gunman while in action.
Despite the acquittal, the court ordered that Wiwat remain in detention pending a verdict by the Supreme Court. He did not react on hearing the verdict on Wednesday but did exchange some words with his relatives and lawyer. He was later accompanied by Department of Corrections officials to the Bang Kwang Maximum Security Prison, where he was detained after the lower court’s guilty verdict.
His lawyer, Puangthip Boonsanong, said the defence had expected the case against him to be rejected, but they respected the court’s decision. She would later apply for a royal pardon on Wiwat’s behalf, the lawyer added.
Lawyer Chokchai Angkaew, who represents the co-plaintiffs who are family members of the gunman’s victims, said that they were satisfied with the imprisonment verdict.