A 61-year-old former Perth resident will serve just two years and nine months imprisonment for the murder of a 46-year-old Hawaii resident in the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai after making a cash payment of Bt100,000 (US$2,955) to a woman who claimed to be the girlfriend of the victim in a trial that lasted less than three hours.
William Thomas Douglas, formerly of Willetton, pleaded guilty in the Chiang Mai Provincial Court to shooting Gary Bruce Poretsky at the Keari restaurant on the morning of March 22, this year and was sentenced to four years imprisonment for murder, one year for having an unregistered firearm and a further six months for carrying a firearm in public.
However, because he confessed to the crime and pleaded guilty he received a 50 per cent reduction in the sentence.
Mr Poretsky, a native of Massachusetts but long time resident of Hawaii, was in Thailand for dental treatment where high quality dentistry is considerably more affordable than the USA.
The court was told that Mr Poretsky arranged to meet a Thai woman who he had met in Pai a week earlier for drinks at around 8pm on the evening of March 21.
The woman, who goes by the single name of Jirawadee, told the court that while she had drunk some beer, Mr Poretsky had only drunk water because he had been to the dentist for treatment earlier that day.
After the restaurant they had been drinking in closed the couple moved on to the Keari restaurant where again Mr Poretsky only drank water.
According to Jirawadee the couple noticed Douglas in the restaurant and Mr Poretsky invited him to join them. While Douglas spoke to Mr Poretsky in English, he spoke in fluent Thai with Ms Jirawadee.
She said not long before the shooting Douglas had told Mr Poretsky and her that he worked as an undercover police operative for the Royal Thai Police (RTP), assisting them in identifying and capturing drug traffickers and users.
“He said he had already killed two drug traffickers while working with the police” Ms Jirawadee said.
According to Ms Jirawadee, Mr Poretsky didn’t believe him and to prove his point Douglas pulled out a handgun and showed them.
“I couldn’t really understand a lot of what they were talking about, but after he showed the gun the conversation got tense and I went to ask the restaurant manager to help because the gun made me frightened”, she said.
She said “Douglas then left the table and a few minutes later returned. He pulled out the gun and shot Gary two times in the chest. Gary fell to the ground and then Douglas fired a third shot into his head”.
Ms Jirawadee described Mr Poretsky as “a nice friendly person. I never saw him get aggressive or raise his voice to anyone”.
Douglas told the court that he had lived in Thailand for 28 years and that prior to moving to Thailand he was a soldier in the Australian army. He said he had completed two tours of duty in Vietnam before coming to Thailand to teach English.
He said that Mr Poretsky had antagonised him by criticising the Vietnam War and had said “Australia should not have followed the US into the Vietnam War and that Australia and Thailand were dictated to by the US”.
Douglas had previously told the court that at the time of the shooting he was estranged from his Burmese girlfriend and living in a hotel. “I left the table and tried to telephone my ‘wife’ but her phone was turned off.
“When I returned Poretsky again claimed Australia and Thailand are tools of the US and should not have sent troops to the Vietnam War. I pulled out my gun and shot him, but at the time I didn’t know what I was doing”, Douglas claimed.
I consider myself Thai, not Australian
Douglas, who was supported by family members who had travelled from Australia for the trial, told the judge the shooting was out of character for him and he had previously not had any trouble with the police in either Australia or Thailand. He submitted a wad of character references from family and friends to support this.
Chief Justice Chayut Prapakamon asked Douglas how long a sentence he would receive for a similar crime in Australia to which Douglas replied, “I’ve lived half my life in Australia and half my life in Thailand. I don’t know about Australian sentencing laws. I consider myself Thai now, not Australian.”
When Justice Chayut then asked Douglas how long he thought he should be imprisoned for, Douglas replied, “six months”.
Justice Chayut claimed this was insufficient and told Douglas that “Thai law states that for murder the penalty is death, or between 15 and 25 years imprisonment”.
However, when Justice Chayut asked for a sentencing recommendation from Provincial Public Prosecutor, Sonthaya Kruewate, the reply was, “four years”.
A woman who claimed she had been the girlfriend of Mr Poretsky and had known him several months earlier told the court in unsworn testimony that Mr Poretsky had planned to build a house for her and now she was left with a debt and couldn’t pay for building the house.
At the time of the shooting the investigating officer, captain Somsak Pamthong, said Mr Poretsky had only been in Thailand for two weeks. Friends of Mr Poretsky confirmed that and said he had not visited Thailand for at least 15 years.
Immediately following the shooting Capt. Somsak said Douglas had told him during questioning that he had shot Mr Poretsky “because he doesn’t like Americans. He thinks ‘they talk down to everyone and consider themselves better than everyone.'”
Prior to being sentenced and in open court in front of Justice Chayut, Douglas paid the woman, who goes by the name of Kanlayawan and was dressed in what appeared to be a dental nurses uniform, Bt100,000 in cash.
After seeing the payment Justice Chayut then read the sentence for the three charges and then immediately left the court.
On hearing the sentence Douglas burst into a broad grin and cheerfully told his family and friends the sentence meant he would serve only two years and nine months minus the time he has been held in remand.
As he was escorted back to the court holding cells Douglas had difficulty keeping his grin under control, a stark contrast to earlier in the day when he had gone to great lengths to hide his face from waiting camera crews.
Updated June 14, 2010
William Thomas Douglas was granted a royal pardon by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej during the week of June 7, cutting six months off his sentence. He is resisting deportation procedures in order to remain in the kingdom where he is married to a Thai woman.
Australian murderer William Thomas Douglas slide gallery
Photos John Le Fevre
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He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me
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