PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla - Defense attorney George Tragos is devoting a large chunk of time trying to prove Arunya Rouch's culture played a role in why she gunned down her co-worker in March 2010.
However, the Thai culture expert ABC Action News tracked down told us "culture is not the culprit in this case."
Tragos told jurors Rouch loved working at the Tarpon Springs Publix and became overwhelmed with shame when she was fired for threatening Greg Janowski's life. Five hours later and still spiraling in shame, Tragos said his client shot and killed Rouch because she couldn't handle the disgrace.
Michael Jerryson, assistant professor of religious studies at Eckerd College, specializes in Thai culture and just returned from the country a week ago. He said the way Thai culture is being presented in the trial is misleading and inaccurate.
"Thai culture has what is called 'sia na' or loss of face," explained Jerryson. "It's about shame but not about honor."
Jerryson said Thai people usually interpret occurrences in their lives, like getting fired from a job, to karma.
"If something bad happens it is due to your karma. You are paying a debt either in this lifetime or for a past lifetime," he added.
Contrary to defense claims that culture was a catalyst to this killing, Jerryson told ABC Action News a cornerstone of Thai culture is passive-aggressive behavior.
"You would interpret the loss of faith as something you deserve because of your karma, not because of your boss or external factors," Jerryson said.
Jerryson cited the high number of suicides in Thailand and the growing cases of people suffering from ulcers in the country.
"The notion of losing face has never been affixed to violence, especially external violence," he said.
He pointed to Thailand having no history of mass shootings or people 'going postal.' He calls shootings like those an American phenomenon.
Prosecutor Fred Schaub has been gouging away at how much culture played a role in this case.
"She has been in this country quite some time?" Schaub questioned Thomas Rouch regarding how assimilated his wife was to American culture.
Arunya Rouch lived in the U.S. for at least a decade when this shooting occurred.
The defense however is applying a small piece of Thai culture when talking of how Janowski was shot in the head.
"That culture puts a real high value on the head, said Dr. Emily Lozaro, a forensic psychiatrist for the state. "They have a high focus on this as an area of respect."
Prosecutors are arguing Rouch knew before the trigger she wanted to shoot Janowski in the head.
Jerryson agreed that among Thai Buddhists, the head is seen as special because it is where the spirits live and are released. However, he noted there is no past or current trend violence involving a person's head being the target of choice.
"I can't say this means Thais always aim for the head," he said.
Jerryson is not involved in the case nor is he closely following the trial. But, based on what he has heard being stated in court regarding the Thai culture, he believes it is being misrepresented and attorneys on both sides are making 'broad claims.'
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