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Billy’ murder suspects plead ‘not guilty’ ahead of trial

A merit-making ceremony is performed on Jan 28, 2020 for murdered Karen activist Porlajee ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen inside Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi.

Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, and three other defendants on Monday pleaded not guilty in the case brought against them in court in connection with the disappearance and murder of a Karen rights activist back in 2014.

The other three defendants charged over their alleged involvement in the disappearance and death of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen are Bunthaen Butsarakham, Thanaset Chaemthet and Kritsanaphong Chitthet.

The charges include premeditated murder, criminal intimidation using weapons, unlawful detention and concealing a corpse.

Billy was last seen on April 17, 2014, when he was detained by Mr Chaiwat and several other park officers at Ma Rew checkpoint in the park, which is located at the main entrance to Bang Kloy village.

As the four defendants had all pleaded not guilty, the trial by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases is now set to begin on Dec 26 with the court’s inspection of the lists of evidence and witnesses submitted in this case.

A request by Pinnapa Prueksapan, wife of Porlajee, on behalf of her two children for them to become co-plaintiffs was also approved by the court yesterday, to which the four defendants didn’t object.

As biological children of Porlajee, the two hold the right to handle the lawsuit on behalf of their late father, said the judge.

Before this case made it to court, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) actually had a lot of difficulties in finding evidence with which to build a case to prosecute.

In 2019, a DSI report was rejected by the OAG for not providing sufficient evidence to prove that Billy was murdered.

At the time, the OAG regarded the mitochondrial DNA test — which was used to prove the human skull found in a drum found under a bridge in Kaeng Krachan Park was in fact, Billy’s — as unreliable.

And after more supporting evidence was submitted by the DSI, the OAG on Aug 15 agreed to have the four suspects arraigned and charged.

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