Death sentence for Artur Segarra unlikely to end in execution, experts say why

Spanish national Artur Segarra, 37, gestures on a couch while guarded by a police officer. Photo: AFP

Spaniard Artur Segarra, accused of the murder of compatriot David Bernat, was sentenced to death by a Bangkok court on April 21 and transferred to Bangkwang Prison, better known to some foreigners by its nickname “Bangkok Hilton.” He was convicted of premeditated murder, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, torture, and falsification of documents, closing the case on a macabre crime that took place in January 2016.

Bernat, a 40-year-old entrepreneur, resided in Iran and frequently visited Thailand. He arrived in Bangkok on Jan. 19 for vacation and had a drink with Segarra that night. The two were friends from Bernat’s previous trips to Bangkok.

They went to Segarra´s house, in Huai Khwang, where Segarra murdered Bernat, supposedly for his money. His body appeared on the morning of Jan. 30, cut into pieces, in the Chao Phraya River.

Jassada Piyasuwanvanit, the court-appointed lawyer who defended Segarra during the trial lasted, said that the sentence was expected because “all the evidence was clear.” Segarra is going to appeal, although that duty will fall to his first lawyer, Worasit Piriyawiboon. Segarra changed lawyers three times because they were not to his liking.

According to Amnesty International, Thai judges issued a total of 216 new death sentences in 2016. In Thailand’s prisons there were 427 prisoners on death row at the end of last year, 24 of whom were foreigners.

Currently, the death penalty applies to 35 crimes in Thailand and is applicable only by lethal injection. But the punishment has not been carried out for 14 years and has, in that time, always been commuted to a life sentence.

The last time Thailand executed criminals was in 2009 — two men were sentenced to death for drugs trafficking, before the country seemed to apply an unlegislated but indefinite moratorium on capital punishment.

The 2009 execution was an anomaly, explains Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International campaign person for Thailand. “No one had been executed since 2003 when this took place. Thai authorities have made repeated commitments to move towards abolition of the death penalty, which Amnesty International believes to be a determining factor in why no executions have taken place in the intervening period between 2009 and 2017.”

Contradictingly, however, the Constitution Drafting Committee announced on Dec. 20 that it had decided to include the death penalty in the draft law against corruption, making some  more serious crimes punishable by death.

“Even though Thailand has adopted a moratorium on the death penalty for decades, successive governments often introduce legislations with death penalty to score political points by creating a public impression that they are decisive and take matters seriously,” said Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand in Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“It is a kind of a publicity stunt,” he said, “The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is following that footstep. They staged a coup in May 2014, claiming widespread corruption as one of their justifications. And now they are promising that those found to be stealing from the country will be punished by death.”

Segarra, 37, was arrested on Feb. 7 of last year in the Cambodian town of Sihanoukville, where he had fled. He was handed over to Thai authorities a day later. The convicted man had been awaiting a hearing in Bangkok ever since and claims to be a victim of a trap involving his Thai ex-girlfriend, Pridsana Saen-ubon, who testified against him in December.

Bernat’s body was discovered by residents near Wat Kharuehabodi. They discovered his right arm floating in the river. Several parts of the body were found floating later in the provinces of Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani.

The forensic team determined that the victim died of asphyxiation between Jan. 25-27. According to the investigation, on the night after the murder, Segarra took his motorcycle in the direction of the river loaded with a large parcel — near where Bernat’s body is believed to have been dumped and returned without it the following morning.

According to the judge, the murder was motivated by money, as investigators detected “large amounts” missing from the murdered Spaniard’s Singaporean accounts. Segarra was also recorded withdrawing large sums of cash from ATMs in Bangkok after the disappearance of Bernat.

Although there are no direct witnesses because Bernat did not leave Segarra’s apartment that night, the judge said that “forensic evidence is reliable and cannot be rejected.” The prosecution has DNA samples, fingerprints in Segarra’s apartment, camera recordings, and bank accounts withdrawals that incriminate him.

The Spaniard, always smiling before the cameras, arrived at the sentencing room wearing a light brown Thai prison suit, shackles, and bare feet. On the palm of his hand was written a Bible verse in which Jesus asks his Father to forgive because they know not what they do.

After the sentencing, officers did not allow questioning of Segarra by the press. But as he was leaving, he expressed that the sentence “is nothing unusual” and that “there is no evidence” that blames him for the murder.

His appeal lawyer, Piriyawiboon, explains that, by law, “the appeal submission could be extended for 30 days more.” The Spaniard still has the possibility of appealing to the Supreme Court and, ultimately, to request leniency from the Royal House to lower the sentence.

According to the agreement signed between Thailand and Spain, once the sentence is firm, Segarra could request a transfer to Spain to finish serving the sentence after eight years of imprisonment in Thailand.

In this case, Segarra could comply with the sentence as established in the Spanish legislation for the charged offense and not be returned to Thailand. Nevertheless, the transfer could only be granted if he complied with repaying the THB700,000 that he extracted from the bank accounts of Bernat and that he must return to the dead man’s family.

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