The Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct on Wednesday sentenced “Joe Ferrari”, a former Nakhon Sawan police chief, and five other officers to life imprison for the torture killing of a drug suspect they were extorting.
Thitisan Utthanaphon, 39, the former police colonel in charge of Nakhon Sawan’s Muang District station, and five defendants were given the death sentence for malfeasance, coercion and lethal torture June 8, but had their sentences commuted to life in prison because they confessed to some charges, tried to resuscitate the victim, and paid compensation to his family.
A seventh defendant, former Pol. Sr. Sgt. Maj. Supakorn Nimchuen, was sentenced to 64 months in prison for malfeasance and coercion, commuted from eights due to a partial confession.
Dubbed “Joe Ferrari” for the collection of 29 luxury vehicles he kept at his five-rai mansion in Bangkok’s Kannayao District, Thitisan and five deputies tortured and killed Jeerapong Thanapat, 24, on Aug. 6, 2020 at the Muang police station by putting a plastic bag over his head and suffocating him.
The crime was caught on video and released online by fellow officer who had earlier filed a complaint against Thitisan, who, following his arrest, was immediately investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission over how a lowly civil servant managed such a lavish lifestyle.
The Customs Department later confirmed that Thitisan had come by the cars legally as they he had confiscated 368 vehicles as part of his job. The cars were then sold at auction for about a billion baht total, of which Thitisan got 30% off as a reward.
Thitisan allegedly was trying to convince Jeerapong to pay him 2 million baht to drop charges after the man and his wife were arrested with 100,000 methamphetamine tablets. He has, throughout his trial, denied the extortion and lethal torture charges.
After Jeerapong died, the Thitisan then had underlings falsify the victim’s death certificate to say he overdosed on illegal drugs.
The video clip showed Jeerapong sitting on a chair, surrounded by four officers in civilian clothes. Thitisan covers Jeerapong’s head with a plastic bag. They beat him a few times while one of them is wrapping the bag around his neck and trying to keep his head down.
With the entire world shining a blinding spotlight on the open secret that is the corrupt-to-the-core Royal Thai Police, authorities moved unusually quickly. In addition, Thitisan, 13 cops were investigated with seven put in cuffs and convicted. Pol. Maj. Raweerote Ditthong, Pol. Capt. Songyot Klainak, formerly deputy inspector for crime suppression; Pol. Lt. Thoranin Matwanna, Pol. Sr. Sgt. Maj. Wisut Boonkhiao and Pol Lance Cpl. Paweekorn Khammarew.
All five have denied all charges, but their sentences were commuted due to their payoffs to the victim’s family and failed attempt to revive Jeerapong.
Rights activists in Thailand and abroad doubted the group would ever face prison, given the epic past failures of Thailand’s justice system to prosecute the wealthy and influential, such as the Red Bull heir. And the case got off to a poor start when Thitisan was given kid-gloves treatment upon his arrest.
Torture and murder suspects typically don’t aren’t afforded the opportunity to make their case in the court of public opinion before even being arraigned. But there was national police chief Pol. Gen. Suwat Jangyodsuk – moments after promising to “punish all wrongdoers” – giving Thitsan the floor (via a mobile phone) to put out his version of the truth.
In the end, it may not matter. The rich, murdering, corrupt cop got life in jail. But he can still appeal.