Wed, Sep 21, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Criminal re-enactments dying off in Thailand

ACTING ILLEGALLY?The custom of getting felons to re-enact their crimes is an age-old tradition in the country, but more modern methods are taking over


A slight woman in a black dress smiles for the cameras as she carries a knife through a crowd, in what could have caused a nightmarish flashback for students who witnessed a gruesome stabbing at a Bangkok school last week.

But the latest high-profile crime in Thailand -- the stabbing of four students at a private school by a woman diagnosed as mentally ill -- has cast a new light on Thailand's long but controversial tradition of re-enacting violent attacks at the scene of the crime.

In this case, police decided not to stage the re-enactment at the scene of the crime, for fear of traumatizing students at St. Joseph's Convent School.

It was an exception from the norm in a country where police trot out suspects before the media and make them act out their confessions at the scene before spectators.

Metropolitan Police spokesman Major General Chatchawan Suksomjit says the re-enactments help by allowing police to compare a suspect's confession with how they replay the crime on camera.

That helps police decide if a confession is sincere, he says.

"The re-enactment is done to prove whether the suspects really committed the crimes and are really willing to confess," he says.

In some cases, suspects with inaccurate re-enactments have confessed to protect the real culprit, Chatchawan says. Suspects, however, can refuse to do a re-enactment, while police only allow replays under strict security.

"We will do it when it's safe, when no one can help suspects escape, and when the crowd won't try to punish the suspect," he says.

Re-enactments have sometimes turned into scenes of mob justice, when onlookers become enraged and attack the suspects, especially in serious cases like child rape.

Police also try to avoid having suspects meet the victims or their families during a re-enactment. If that happens, emotions tend to boil over and crowd control becomes a problem, Chatchawan says.

In the case of the school stabbing, police had suspect Jitrlada Tantiwanitchasuk re-enact the crime in the safety of a police residence compound.

"A re-enactment at the school would have scared other students," he says.

Jitrlada confessed to the stabbing, saying she acted out of hatred for wealthy ethnic Chinese and Indian families in Thailand. She has expressed no remorse for the stabbing that put four students in hospital, and psychologists examining her believe she is insane.

Police have staged re-enactments for decades, and videotapes of the staged version are submitted to courts as evidence.

But experts have begun to question whether re-enactments remain a useful policing tool.

Varakorn Samakoses, president of Durakijbundit University, says police should end the practice because forensics science can provide law enforcement with better tools to solve crimes.

"Science has developed a lot, and scientific methods can provide enough evidence to bring wrongdoers to justice," he says.

Varakorn says the re-enactment puts both victims and suspects at risk, as victims face renewed trauma of seeing violent acts repeated, while suspects face the danger of vigilante justice by the onlookers.

"Victims feel degraded by this, while the suspects face punishment both by the law and by society at large," he says.

Varakorn also worries that re-enactments encourage copycat crimes.

"It is only good for informing the public, but it may inspire copycat crimes," he says.

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