3 fatally shot as long Thai legal dispute turns violent

BANGKOK (AP) — Three people were fatally shot Tuesday in a courtroom in eastern Thailand when a long-running legal feud turned violent.

Suriyan Hongwilai, a spokesman for the Chanthaburi Provincial Court, said in a statement that the shooting took place when the plaintiff and defendant in a perjury case were awaiting the arrival of the judge.

He said an argument broke out between the two sides during which defendant Thanin Chantratip, a retired senior police officer, drew a handgun and fatally shot plaintiff Bancha Porameesanaporn and one of his lawyers, Wijai Sukharom.

Thanin also shot and wounded Bancha's wife and another lawyer before a court policeman shot and killed him.

The court said the two sides had been engaged in a 10-year dispute over land carried on through several criminal and civil cases, during which they frequently quarreled.

Thai media reported that Bancha was a high-profile lawyer whose prominent clients included former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Suriyan's statement said measures would be considered to tighten court security. It also asked the media not to circulate photos of the victims which had been posted on social media.

It was the second violent incident in a Thai court in the past week.

On Nov. 5, an American man was among three prisoners who staged a violent escape from a courthouse in the resort town of Pattaya, also in eastern Thailand.

The American man, Bart Allen Helmus, escaped with his Thai wife and a male Thai accomplice as they were being moved from a holding area to a courtroom. All three faced drug trafficking charges carrying a possible death sentence.

Surveillance camera video showed one person stabbing a guard who tried to stop them and another forcing a guard at gunpoint to hand over keys to a secured area so they could make their escape in a nearby pickup truck.

Police tracked down the fugitives the next day. The Thai man surrendered, while the American shot his wife and then himself as police closed in.

Helmus was reported last week to be on a respirator for life support, while his wife was in slightly less critical condition.

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