Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Capital Crime in Thailand

Those who work for abolition of the death penalty dread the occurrence of vicious and totally inexcusable homicides. Cases of homicide which incur the death penalty fall into three categories:
1. Cases where despite the requirement in law that the evidence be clear and convincing, allowing for no other interpretation than the guilt of the accused, reasonable doubt persists and the possibility exists of wrongful conviction. A famous case in the Philippines which greatly helped abolition related in the court records that the accused had said such and such. Subsequent examination of t he condemned person by a doctor revealed that the accused was deaf and dumb, throwing doubt on the whole legal process. More generally, many cases occur where examination of the evidence reveals serious flaws and unanswered questions. Abolitionists can refer to such cases as 'unsafe' convictions.
2. Most cases are convincing enough. and may even include a plea of guilt by the accused. But it is seldom that evidence is overwhelmingly strong, as it must be, independently of a guilty plea which may have been induced by seemingly endless interrogation or other cause. Above all, there are extenuating circumstances. The accused may have led a blameless life and the crime appear quite out of character. Or the accused may have serious deficiencies of intelligence, be uneducated, have little understanding of legal procedure. Many accused are poor and disadvantaged, or may have been subject to abuse. In the words of Pascal, 'to understand everything is to forgive everything'.
3. Finally, there are crimes which are blatant, where the evidence is indeed overwhelming. Or there are crimes that are so vicious and cruel that the concept of mercy can hardly be considered. Cases like this awake feelings of revenge, feelings that no punishment is sufficient. There is also a fear that the guilty person is a monster who could repeat the crime if not executed. It is indeed difficult to argue against the death penalty in such cases. But argue we must, in the name of humanity itself.

While Thailand approaches a period of six years without the death penalty, it is a tragedy that cases of the third kind still occur. In one case the death sentence was handed down on a woman who had hired four men to kill her 56 year old husband to benefit from a 2 million baht insurance cover she had taken out on his life. The four men were also found guilty of murder but the death sentence against them was commuted to a 25 year sentence on account of their admission of guilt. Surely, a cut and dried case!

On the 14th April there occurred a particularly cruel crime.
"On Friday, robbers killed Apisa Tasi, 12, and her sister Orawan, 7, by hanging them at the back of their house in Ban Koh Mi in tambon Klong Hae, Haadyai. Their hands and legs were bound.
Police believe at least two robbers raided the house. They took 13,000 baht in cash and two-baht weight in gold jewellery.
The girls were left alone as their grandfather and his wife went out to tap rubber trees. Their mother was not in the house during the raid."
Police surmise that the girls would have recognised the killers who were probably their relatives, and were killed to avoid detection. A horrendous crime for such a paltry motivation. It is likely that arrests will be made and we will witness strengthened support for the death penalty.

And yet, everyone has the right to life.