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Aussie man and Thai wife say politicians’ letter saved them from death penalty in Thailand

A free Aussie man and his Thai wife who spent four years in prison in Thailand for a crime they did not commit say that a 15-page letter from politicians in Australia is the reason they were spared the death penalty after being convicted of trafficking half a tonne of crystal meth in 2018.

Luke Cook, his wife Kanyarat Wechapitak and American man Tyler Gerard were arrested in 2017 after Thai police claimed that Cook was paid US$10 million by the Hell’s Angels bike gang to smuggle 500 kilogrammes of methamphetamine – or “Ice” – into Australia from Thailand on his yacht in 2015. All three were sentenced to the death penalty in 2018.

Thai police said that Cook, Kanyarat and Gerard picked up half of a tonne of drugs from a Chinese trawler before panicking and dropping it into Thailand’s waters when approached by a Royal Thai Navy vessel, citing that 50.4 kilogrammes of Ice washed up near the naval base in Sattahip, Chon Buri, in 2017.

Police said that Cook was a Hells Angel and accused him of acting on behalf of Hells Angel Wayne Schneider, who was murdered by fellow gang members in 2015.

Cook admitted to driving Antonio Bagnato – who was accused of Schneider’s murder – to the border of Cambodia as he fled the Thai authorities. However, Cook said he was forced to make the journey and didn’t even know Schneider. Cook always denied being a Hells Angel.

Cook and Kanyarat filed a final appeal against their sentence of death at the Supreme Court in 2021, put together independently of Cook by Melbourne legal group Capital Punishment Justice Project. The appeal pointed out plenty of holes in the Thai police’s evidence and breaches of international laws in the investigation.

The group got Liberal Senator Dean Smith and then New South Wales lower house MP Chris Hayes to sign the 15-page appeal.

The group asked the Thai court to reject the testimony of 38 year old Douglas Shoebridge, an Australian who testified that Cook confessed to the crime.

Shoebridge told the court that Cook hired him as a diver to go on three trips to look for gold which was dumped offshore. On the third unsuccessful trip, Shoebridge said that Cook confessed that he wasn’t really looking for gold but was looking for the drugs he dumped overboard.

In the end, the court ruled that Shoebridgde was “not a credible witness.” The court said, “the testimony given by him is of no preponderance and it could not be admissible by the court.”

After four years behind bars in Thailand, Cook, Kanyarat and Gerard were all acquitted of their crimes by the Supreme Court in September last year and released.

Father of two, Cook, told the Western Australian…

“It is likely I would still be on death row in Thailand if I didn’t have the support from the Australian parliamentarians against the death penalty and also the Capital Punishment Justice Project.”

Now, Cook and Kanyarat live in Mandurah, a coastal city south of Perth, where they sell boats.

Cook wants to thank the two politicians who he says saved him from the death penalty. He says the politicians convinced the Thai court to take the appeal seriously.

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