Death sentence upheld in Songkhla mayor murder case


THE SUPREME COURT yesterday upheld the death penalty for a one-time prominent local leader from Songkhla province for ordering the murder of a former friend.

Uthit Chuchuay, who previously headed the Songkhla Provincial Administrative Organisation, was sentenced to death along with two accomplices. Two other defendants, including Uthit’s younger brother Kitti Chuchuay, received life sentences for the shocking murder.
Songkhla City mayor Peera Tantiserane was gunned down in late 2012 after he had sought to block a cable-car project backed by Uthit. Following the murder, Uthit’s political career was finished and he lost when he ran for another term as the chief of the provincial organisation.
Before the falling out, Peera and Uthit had been good friends and with close family ties. 
“My mum keeps saying that she could never have imagined that the relationships between the Tantiseranes and Chuchuays would end up like this. We used to be like blood relatives,” Charuek Tantiserane, Peera’s younger brother, said yesterday after learning of the court’s verdict. 
Peera’s younger sister Walairat Tantiserane, now deputy mayor of Songkhla City, said her family could not sleep the night before the ruling because everyone was anxious about the final verdict. “We fully welcome the court’s ruling because it has reaffirmed that people can trust the justice system,” Walairat said. Dr Chaya Pakthongsuk, Peera’s widow, thanked police and public prosecutors for their efforts to bring the culprits to justice.
Initially, the Criminal Court acquitted the five suspects including Uthit, but the plaintiffs appealed, bringing the case to the Court of Appeals, which convicted the defendants and handed down the sentences. The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the Court of Appeals’ ruling. 
In accordance with new regulations, the families of the victim and defendants were not present inside the courtroom to hear the verdict, which was broadcast to the defendants in prison via a video-conferencing system. 
Peera’s family was given a copy of the court’s verdict.
Following the murder, police initially identified 10 suspects and, after reviewing the evidence, public prosecutors arraigned seven of them including Uthit and Kitti.
Over the course of court hearings spanning years, two of the defendants were shot dead. All the surviving defendants were found guilty by the Supreme Court, whose ruling cannot be appealed.