The Australian convicted of murdering a suspected drug kingpin in Pattaya is unlikely to actually face lethal injection, according to legal experts.
The death penalty handed down to Antonio Bagnato in Thailand on Tuesday marked the first time in three decades an Australian has faced execution in the country.
Bagnato was convicted of kidnapping and killing former Hells Angels member and suspected drug trafficker Wayne Schneider in December 2015.
But Thailand has not carried out an execution since 2009.
“At the moment [Thailand’s death penalty] is very much one that’s not actively practiced,” said Professor Donald Rothwell, an international law expert at the Australian National University (ANU).
Several other legal practitioners and long-term observers of Thai affairs have also suggested Bagnato is unlikely to be put to death.
In 2009, Thailand executed two Thai drug dealers by lethal injection, which replaced death by a burst of automatic gunfire in 2003.
Since then, those sentenced to execution have been held on death row at the capital’s notorious Bang Kwang Central Prison, better known internationally as the ‘Bangkok Hilton’.
There are a range of appeal options available to the 28-year old kickboxer.
“If the defendant is not satisfied with the verdict, they have right to appeal to the Appeal Court within one month,” said Nantawat Virayavejakul, the prosecutor in the case.
In more complicated cases, that appeal period may be extended, he said.
Bagnato’s lawyer was not available for comment and it is not clear if he will appeal against the verdict.
Mr Nantawat said each legal challenge at the Appeals Court and Supreme Court could take a year, but Professor Rothwell said the process could take up to 10 years.
“The likelihood of these matters being determined quickly is rather remote,” Professor Rothwell said.
Only after all legal appeals have been finalised can a prisoner ask Thailand’s King for a royal pardon.
“So if he uses his right to appeal, it means he can’t yet start applying for a royal pardon,” Mr Nantawat said.
First Australian to face death row in 30 years
The last case of an Australian being sentenced to death in Thailand was that of Nola Blake in 1987.
She was caught with 4.5 kilograms of heroin stuffed into a pillow in her baby’s pram.
Her sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1991 and she was given a royal pardon in 1998, after spending 11 years behind bars.
Professor Rothwell said the case was a chance for Australia to increase pressure against the death penalty.
“Now with another Australian on death row … and given Australia’s relations with Thailand, this would seem to be an open opportunity for Australia to develop that advocacy directly with the Thai Government,” he said.