BANGKOK – More than five years after Leo Del Pinto was fatally shot while visiting Thailand, the off-duty police officer charged in the Canadian’s death has pleaded guilty to murder.
The slain man’s father and media reports from Thailand indicated Sgt. Uthai Dechawiwat changed his not guilty plea in early July.
“We wanted to make sure this was true, not a bogus thing,” Ernie Del Pinto said Wednesday, adding he confirmed the news with Foreign Affairs and Canada’s ambassador to Thailand.
Ernie said he had hoped Dechawiwat would have maintained his not-guilty plea until he was eventually found guilty, adding the police officer has escaped the death penalty.
“At least he admits he killed Leo John. I guess that’s the bottom line, and I can’t ask for anything more,” Ernie said.
Leo, 25, died after he was shot in the face and stomach on Jan. 6, 2008, while backpacking through the village of Pai in Thailand. His travel companion, Carly Reisig, was also shot but has since recovered.
For years, Ernie fought for justice for his son. He met with government officials and watched with frustration as legal proceedings dragged on.
At one point, Dechawiwat was released from custody and subsequently re-arrested after murdering his 18-year-old pregnant wife. He is currently serving a 25-year sentence for clubbing the woman to death.
Ernie said he never believed the officer’s claims that he acted in self defence after being attacked by Leo.
“I know my son wouldn’t harm a fly, let alone attack a guy with a gun,” he said. “There are some stupid people in the world, but anybody in their right mind would not approach somebody with a gun.”
Ernie said the guilty plea makes him feel as though he’s accomplished “a big thing” but still feels saddened that he was unable to save the police officer’s wife and unborn child.
“If the Thai government would have listened to me and if the Canadian government put pressure, (not to) let this guy out, I probably could have saved the pregnant mother,” Ernie said.
He said he plans to travel to Thailand for the Aug. 20 sentencing.