December 31 2010
Three years after he gunned down Canadian Leo Del Pinto in the northern Thai village of Pai the trial of Police Sergeant Uthai Dechachiwat has still not started and papers have now been referred to the Office of Special Litigation in Bangkok.
But on January 17th Sergeant Uthai will however go for trial in the provincial capital Mae Hong Son for the murder of his 18-yr-old wife Manta by clubbing her to death with a piece of wood – an offence committed while on bail on the first murder charge.
He has already indicated he will be pleading guilty and police have his DNA from the wood.
Last month Leo’s family in Calgary, Alberta, celebrated what would have been Leo’s 27th birthday. They have not been encouraged by the delays in justice, nearly six months of which was caused by failure of the head of Pai Police to turn up for pre-trial hearings at Mae Hong Son Court.
But they are comforted by the fact that they are getting weekly reports from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, parts of which I have quoted below.
Justice still seems a long way away after a series of delays which might be regarded as almost machiavellian to people unfamiliar with the workings of the Thai justice system.
Leo’s father Ernie Del Pinto described the consistent delays as bordering on the credible. But the family, he said, would be monitoring the case until it came to a conclusion. Patience would be the better part of virtue for any outcome.
The quest for justice for Leo Del Pinto and to prosecute a Thai policeman for his murder has been fraught with obstacles since Del Pinto was killed and his friend Carly Reisig, from Chilliwack B.C., was shot and injured in her side in a confrontation with Sergeant Uthai near Pi Daeng’s restaurant in Pai in January 2008.
A major obstacle to the progress of the proceedings has been the chief of Pai police himself, Police Colonel Sombat Panya, who immediately after the shootings, put out the story that Sergeant Uthai was acting in self-defence while being attacked by Del Pinto, and then proceeded to instruct witnesses as to what actually happened.
The Thai National Human Rights Commission has already lodged a complaint against Colonel Panya for the harassment and intimidation of witnesses. That complaint however seems to have disappeared into the ether.
The’ self-defence’ claim was demolished by the TNHRC who commissioned forensic pathologist Dr. Pornthip Rojanasung to conduct an independent autopsy, showing Del Pinto was shot when he was on the ground.
But although the case is now being handled by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation, Colonel Panya, as chief of the local police, still has to be part of the judicial process.
This of course poses certain problems, not least of which was Colonel Panya’s refusal to turn up to testify, hence the six month delay.
And Pai Police had already delayed proceedings for five months by not completing a ‘missing step’ in the investigation they were ordered to do.
Here for instance is a section from a briefing note to the family from the Canadian government case officer monitoring the case after one hearing in October:
‘The defence lawyer did not attend the session and the court was planning to cancel the testimony of the defence witness. If possible, all three remaining witnesses will complete their testimony on 3 November.
‘ In Maj. Wirat’s opinion, it appeared from the court’s handling of the case that the court received the letter from the Embassy. He noted that a judge advised the public prosecutor of Mae Hong Son that it is essential to get Pol. Lt. Col.Sombat Panya to testify during the next scheduled sessions, otherwise the court may consider a warrant of arrest for this witness’.
But Colonel Panya has not been the only problem. There has been a recurring theme of witnesses not turning up. This is a familiar story in Thai trials.
‘Chiang Mai Provincial Court issued a letter calling the witness Asst. Prof. Kanda, M.D. to testify, and was meant to be delivered by the office of the prosecution to the witness. However, the witness did not receive the court’s letter, and the testimony did not take place. Although the Chiang Mai Provincial Prosecution Office was responsible for forwarding the court letter to the witness, it was not clear how and why the court letter did not make its way to the prosecution office’.
Then there was of course the problem of finding a court:
‘Although DSI lawyers proposed the next pre-trial date in Chiang Mai Provincial Court for 20MAY10, they were advised that the court schedules were full, and the earliest date that all parties would be available for the next pre-trial would be Thursday, 08JUL10’.
And this is just for a pre-trial hearing. Then again there other reasons for the delays:
‘The Embassy understands that the question of whether or not the shooting of Mr. Del Pinto occurred while the officer was on duty complicated the process and resulted in the whole pre-trial process that is currently ongoing. Instead of being prosecuted within 84 days, the Del Pinto case involved review by the National Committee on Counter Corruption, followed by the pre-trial process. All of which have caused a significant time delay in the start of the actual criminal trial’.
And as the pre-trial hearings have been taking part in several courts the family are advised of the following:
‘Please note that due to sharing of court staff between Mae Hong Son Provincial Court and Pai District Court, the hearing at Mae Hong Son Court could be scheduled only in even months (e.g. FEB, APR, etc)’.
So what have all these months of litigation been about?
‘The pre-trial process was to determine the identity of the deceased, the cause of death, and whether the accused was acting on duty in his role as a police officer at the time of the shooting’.
But just when the family were thinking that this case is just about to be resolved in comes this:
‘Here is an overview of the internal process after the hearing of the outcome:
First, the case will be forwarded from the Mae Hong Son Provincial Court to the Mae Hong Son Provincial Public Prosecution.
‘Then, the case will be forwarded to Pol. Col. Sombat Panya of the Pai Police.
‘After that, the case will be sent back to DSI (Please note that DSI told us that they will follow up closely and attempt to obtain the file within reasonable time frames)’.
Now it seems that the court in Mae Hong Son has finalised its pre-trial deliberations but judges have still not decided whether Sergeant Uthai was on duty or not, and apparently depending on whether he was on duty or not is which court his trial will take place in and whether the charge will be murder with intent or not?
‘Between you and me I do not give a jot whether this man was on duty or not,’ said Leo’s father Ernie. ‘I just want this man to go into the dock for the murder of my son.’
The family could be forgiven thinking a result might depend on the waxing moon, a slight north easterly, and the appearance of a rainbow over Doi Suthep.
For after three years a court has only ruled that Sergeant Uthai fired the shots, something we all knew in the beginning.
But there is hope that Uthai could be given two consecutive sentences for murder which could give him a sentence of seventy years.