Father continues fight for justice in Thailand

CALGARY — Whenever Ernie Del Pinto feels overwhelmed by two long, frustrating years seeking justice for his dead son in a foreign land, he visits his grave.

Leo Del Pinto. Ernie Del Pinto says one quick visit to his son's grave renews his determination to make sure whoever killed his son is punished. Del Pinto was shot to death in January 2008 just days after arriving for a vacation in Thailand.

Leo Del Pinto. Ernie Del Pinto says one quick visit to his son's grave renews his determination to make sure whoever killed his son is punished. Del Pinto was shot to death in January 2008 just days after arriving for a vacation in Thailand.

CALGARY — Whenever Ernie Del Pinto feels overwhelmed by two long, frustrating years seeking justice for his dead son in a foreign land, he visits his grave.

“It’s draining my energy. You would never believe,” the Calgary man said Thursday.

“But you know what, I take a trip to the cemetery and I’m like the Energizer bunny. I get energized and I go for another day, full power, and keep on going.”

Leo Del Pinto, 25, died after being shot in the face and chest in a northern Thailand town in January 2008. His friend, Carly Reisig of British Columbia, was also hit once in the chest but survived.

Thai police officer Sgt. Uthai Dechawiwat, who was off duty at the time, has been charged with murder with intent and attempted murder with intent.

The case is crawling through the country’s courts. A pre-trial hearing is set to wrap up around April, said Del Pinto.

He chose not to go to Thailand for the hearing, because once a trial actually begins he may spend long stretches of time in the country. His Calgary lawyer, Adriano Iovinelli, keeps in touch with Thai prosecutors, and the Canadian government has also kept an eye on the proceedings.

Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said the government has followed the case closely since the beginning. He’s personally talked with Thai officials to ensure that the court case is moving along.

“The Canadian government is heavily engaged on this file. Both myself and the minister of foreign affairs have, on numerous occasions during our meeting with Thai officials, made it very clear to them that we would like to see that justice take its place,” he said.

“We want to ensure it is a fair, transparent trial and there’s justice here.”

Iovinelli said the pre-trial hearing has taken so long because it’s being held in the province where Del Pinto was killed, away from the capital, Bangkok. It started in August and was estimated run eight or nine days. But the court only sits every second month and has only devoted a day or two at a time.

Once the hearing is complete, the proceedings will move to the main city for a trial date, he said.

“The family will feel much more confident once it’s back in Bangkok for trial.”

Del Pinto said he probably won’t know the full story of what happened to his son until he hears all the evidence at the trial. But from everything he’s heard, it seems to him his son was attacked with little provocation while trying to protect his friend.

Iovinelli said Uthai originally claimed he fired his gun in self-defence, but at the most recent hearing said instead that he fired his gun accidentally.

“Our concern throughout is how do you accidentally shoot two different people that are far apart from one another?” he said.

“The trajectory of the bullets in relation to Leo Del Pinto showed that one came from above and one came from below.”

Uthai was originally released on bail, but was taken back into custody in October 2008. He was released on a technicality and proceedings are underway to put him back behind bars until trial, said Iovinelli.

Del Pinto knows it could still be a long time before the man goes to trial, but plans to keep up a full-court press.

“Somebody has to be accountable for what happened. I am not going to go away. I’m here for life. I’m here till this is done.”

Del Pinto’s twin daughters organized a candlelight vigil for their brother to mark the day they heard he had been slain. It was to be held Thursday night after a special mass.

Del Pinto said he’s working on the ability to forgive. He visited his son’s grave daily for all of 2008, but started going every other day in the last year. As the anniversary of Leo’s death approached, however, he found himself once again stopping by each and every day.

“He was a good boy. He was a great kid. He was honest … What’s there to say more than that?

“He was a Canadian citizen who went out on a holiday and came back in a body bag.”