Phuket News reported that both men were sentenced to death but the two judges then formally commuted the sentence for each to life imprisonment, as the culprits had cooperated with the court and had admitted their guilt. If they had pleaded not guilty, but then been found guilty, they could have been executed.
Surasak “Boy” Suwannachot and Surin Tadtong appeared in court in prison garb, in leg irons with shaven heads. Surasak, 26, stabbed Smith while Surin drove the getaway motorcycle. They pleaded guilty to killing for personal gain, killing in association with each other, carrying weapons in public and conspiring to commit robbery.
The sentences, reported to equate technically to 100 years in prison, can be reduced by good behaviour. According to Phuket News, exemplary behaviour could see the men out of prison in perhaps 20 to 25 years, though that depends on many factors.
Surasak, sitting in the back of the prison van after sentencing, told reporters enigmatically, “I’m going to be out,” the paper reported. Both prisoners, grinning with relief at not having been sentenced to death, were conveyed straight from the court to begin their sentences in the Phuket Provincial Prison.
Smith, 60, from RAC Travel in the Perth suburb of Joondalup, was a well-known and respected travel industry personality with 40 years industry experience. She was among 10 travel agents from Perth on a Phuket fam tour organised by Asia Escape.
When a man on a motorbike tried to grab Smith’s bag a brief tussle ensued, during which Smith was stabbed in the heart.
The brutal murder of Smith, married with grown children, shocked the usually laid-back Phuket island. Bag snatching by youths is a local peril (it happens in other places too, notably Rome) – but a tourist being killed during such a robbery is unheard of.
Phuket News quoted Australian Honorary Consul Larry Cunningham, who was in court to observe the sentencing, praising the police for capturing the two criminals so quickly.
“I’m thinking about Michelle’s family right now – the children who do not have their mother any more, the husband who does not have his wife any more. So it’s very sad to think about that. I’m also thinking about Tammee Lynn [another Perth travel agent, who was with Lynn during the attack], who was also stabbed during the attack. She is happy that everything has finished.”
Written by Peter Needham