Convict meets lags who committed the crime he was banged up for

MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE: Kamol Phaekhiew has been distraught after being sentenced to 21 years in jail but freedom may be in sight. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
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The following story reads like the plot of The Shawshank Redemption, the only real differences being that it happened in the Thai legal system and it isn’t fictional. The Justice Ministry is providing legal assistance to a prisoner who discovered, during a conversation with fellow inmates, that it was they who had committed the crime he insists he was wrongly convicted of several years ago.

Kamol Phaekhiew, a 48-year-old janitor at Hankha Witthayakhom School in Chai Nat, was sent to prison for committing robbery. During his first days in jail, he was irretrievably distraught, crying frequently and refusing to eat.

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Kamol was convicted of robbing a foreigner’s house in Suphan Buri province’s Sri Prachan district. On Sept 19, 2012, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison by the Supreme Court for the robbery, including the theft of a pickup truck at the tambon Plai Na home. Previously, on March 23, 2006, the day the crime took place, he was also charged with possessing unauthorised weapons.

Despite insisting on his innocence, Kamol was sentenced to serve time at Khao Bin prison in Ratchaburi’s Muang district.

It was there he met fellow inmates Sakhon Khaophan and Somchai Sriruedee. They were jailed for different crimes, but they found something that rang familiar in Kamol’s case.

In recounting the charges against him to the men, Kamol couldn’t offer any specific details about the crime. But after listing off the accusations against him, Sakhon and Somchai realised they had an idea of what really happened.

They revealed to Kamol their shared suspicion — that it was they who had been two out of the five robbers in the incident from 2006.

According to the men, the robbery was carried out by five people. One of them was Ekkarath Lao-orn, currently serving time at another prison. The other two men had been killed while committing other crimes, says Thitinai Patigaboot, a special case officer at the Justice Ministry.

Sakhon and Somchai recently agreed to write a letter to confess to the crime — the first step in Kamol’s path towards retrieving justice.

Pol Col Dussadee Arayawuth, deputy permanent secretary for justice, tasked his staff with compiling a new file of evidence alongside Provincial Police Region 7 investigators.

The preliminary investigation has so far shown there’s reason to believe that Kamol could have been wrongly convicted.

“We asked Sakhon and Somchai to explain what happened and draw a map of the house,” said Mr Thitinai. “Their statement matched what happened during the robbery.

“We are working with the Provincial Police Region 7 to collect further evidence for the court to decide whether Kamol was in fact wrongly convicted.”

The ministry is now trying to collect enough evidence to file a case against Sakhon, Somchai and Ekkarath. If the evidence proves sufficient, the ministry will invoke the retrial law to revive the case and overturn Kamol’s conviction.

Pol Col Dussadee says the ministry needs a proper court ruling to get Kamol out of jail. He added they would do their best to compensate Kamol.

This would include a rehabilitation plan and 300 baht for each day spent in prison.

The senior ministry official said the case should be dealt with quickly since Sakhon and Somchai have already pleaded guilty to the robbery.

In an interview released by Channel 3, Sakhon said from prison that he told Kamol he is convinced he and the other four men were the real robbers.

“I asked him how he came to be locked up,” Sakhon recalled in the interview, which aired last week. “He said he was jailed for a robbery he did not commit.

“I asked him for the details of the crime, and he said it was in Sri Prachan. Then I asked whether it was in tambon Plai Na. And he said yes. After listening to him, I told him that we were the ones who did it.”

Sakhon said Kamol seemed to be truly suffering in prison. It’s what motivated him and the other men involved to write a letter to the Department of Special Investigation’s (DSI) director-general, telling the truth about what happened.

In Ekkarath’s trial for a different crime in 2013, he also mentioned that Kamol, whose case he had heard about, had been handed a wrongful conviction for the robbery.

But the DSI only took up the case after receiving Sakhon’s letter last year.

Last week the DSI sent Chatchai Thosinthiti and Mr Thitinai to join the police of the Region 7 sector in a meeting with Sakhon, Somchai and Ekkarath.

Asked why Sakhon agreed to confess, Mr Thitinai said: “He felt bad for Kamol, who was really suffering from his sentence.”

Kamol was initially ruled guilty after two child witnesses, aged seven and 11, identified him as the robber.

Kamol’s wife Bang-orn had already requested justice for her husband at a ministry meeting on Aug 7 last year. She mentioned having to sell several of her assets to pay for the legal procedure.

She currently lives alone with the family dog. Her son recently passed away.

Ms Bang-orn says she looks forward to her husband coming home and leading a normal life after the conviction is cleared.

-The Bangkok Post

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