On Wednesday the Region 2 Provincial Court of Appeals in Rayong province, near Pattaya, upheld the conviction and death sentence of Australian Luke Joshua Cook, his Thai wife Kanyarat Wediphitak and a Californian man, Tyler Gerard.
All three were arrested in December 2017 on multiple criminal charges, of which the formal accusation was “the failed importation of 500kg of methamphetamine by sea-going transport into the Thai Kingdom using the yacht “Jomandy”.
The yacht was acquired by Cook and Kanyarat from Malaysia using their unlicensed boat importation business “Global Marine Solution”, which according to police was specifically for unlawful operations funded by deceased senior Hells Angels member Wayne Rodney Schneider.
According to the Court during May and June 2015, Cook and Gerard took the Jomandy from a marina near Pattaya City to rendezvous with a Chinese vessel in international waters, where the drugs were loaded onto the yacht. En route back to the marina, navy vessels on routine patrol approached them and they dumped the cargo overboard. It eventually washed ashore where it was discovered by locals.
The plan was reportedly to store the narcotics temporarily in Thailand while a custom keel was built for the Jomandy where the drugs were to be concealed while yacht sailed to Australia.
In December 2015, Cook and Gerard were arrested and pleaded guilty to the abduction, death and burial of Schneider which dominated local Pattaya press at the time.
A man named Antonio Bagnato was also arrested, but he denied the charges and was ultimately sentenced to three years for assault, after a successful appeal against the death sentence issued by a lower court.
The Court of Appeals handed down the decision on Wednesday based on evidence and witness testimonies such as that given by the man who purchased the Jomandy from Cook, for substantially less than what Cook paid – suspicious, since Cook was in the business of importing used boats into Thailand for a profit, not a loss. Additionally, Cook and the two accused denied any wrongdoing with no credible evidence to support their defense and claimed they had been framed by two of the prosecution witnesses, one of whom they claimed had rented the Jomandy from Cook and undertaken the failed meth importation.
This was deemed impossible by the court as witness was shown by foreign and Thai authorities to have been in another country when the crime was committed. Court officials said this confirmed that the accused knew of the crime and were attempting to frame someone else.
Bagnato, Cook and his wife are currently in a Thai prison awaiting a trial date for charges relating to illegal firearms, one military grade, discovered in police raids after Schneider’s body was discovered.
All three have denied the firearms charges, but investigators say Cook and his wife will likely be convicted as the firearms were found in his hotel room and a rental vehicle whose keys he possessed when arrested in December 2015.
Senior Thai officials gone on record calling Cook and his wife con artists and compulsive liars, citing the couple’s claim that they never had any dealings or contact with the Hells Angels. A Facebook conversation from Cook’s smartphone with his wife where they together reference Hells Angels members arrested by Pol Lt Gen Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn.