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Thailand’s Central Criminal Court has sentenced Pol Col Thitisan “Joe Ferrari” Utthanaphon to life imprisonment Wednesday morning, a reduction of the initial sentence of the death penalty. Six other officers involved in the killing will also face life imprisonment.
Last year, Ferrari, a former police superintendent of Muang Nakhon Sawan, along with seven other police officers were charged with the killing of Jirapong Tanapat, a drug suspect on August 5, 2021.
Ferrari was initially given the death penalty on Wednesday, but the court reduced the sentence to life imprisonment as he paid compensation to the family of the deceased of 600,000 baht, and an additonal 30,00 baht for the funeral.
The brutal murder was caught on security camera and then leaked to the public causing a massive public outcry over police brutality and the use of torture and ill treatment in police custody. The case also sprung debate over long-standing allegations of police brutality in Thailand.
“The ruling and the outcome in this case has garnered a lot of public attention. It may set precedent to hold governmental officials accountable promptly through a judicial process and to face punishment commensurate to the gravity of the crime,” said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet in, the director of Cross Cultural Foundation, an organization that monitors and documents torture and human rights abuses.
In August 2021, local news reported that the police officers first arrested Jeerapong for selling methamphetamine pills, and then proceeded to suffocate him to death using plastic bags trying to extort a bribe of two million Thai baht ($60,000) for his release.
The officers then attempted to cover their tracks by ordering doctors at Sawan Pracharak Hospital to state the cause of the detained man’s death as a drug overdose.
After the footage of the killing was leaked, authorities began a manhunt looking for Ferrari. Once officers raided his home, they found at least 30 cars, including Bentleys, Porches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, illustrating how Ferrari earned his nickname.
Human rights groups hope this case will help move the Senate to pass the Draft Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, a bill that would finally crimanilze torture and enforced disapearance in Thailand.
“This may help to address the culture of impunity in other previous cases. It may also allude to the question if the injured parties and their relatives have been appropriately remedied or not,” Pornpen said in a statement.