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Confessed Phuket murderer Fanelli on the inside

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Murder suspect Ronald Fanelli has yet to enter a plea with the Phuket Provincial Court and the American says his detention at Phuket Provincial Prison is making him physically ill.

Speaking through a telephone in the visitors’ center on March 1, Mr Fanelli said a court appearance scheduled for February 24 had to be postponed after “a timing mix-up” resulted in his lawyer being unable to appear.

Mr Fanelli has been charged with the murder of bar hostess Wanphen Pienjai, a 37-year-old mother of two who disappeared from the Sweethearts Bar in Kata on June 18 last year.

Her decaying body was found six days later stuffed into a suitcase dumped in a remote area off Chao Fa Thani Road in Wichit.

Following a one-month manhunt, Mr Fanelli was arrested and confessed to killing Ms Wanphen, but said “it was a terrible, terrible accident. I never intended to harm that person.”

His lawyer was to enter his initial plea in the case this month, he said.

Gaunt and appearing somewhat apprehensive, Mr Fanelli was disinclined to discuss the charges or how he would plea.

His lawyer would speak for him at his next court appearance, which is scheduled for later this month, he said.

He confirmed having spent three months in treatment at Suan Saranrom Hospital in Surat Thani, which specializes in the treatment of psychiatric conditions.

However, he denied that the treatment came at his own request, as was previously reported.

The court system and prison officials now have complete control over him and his own desires count for nothing, he said.

He described the facilities at Suan Saranrom as “spartan” but said the staff there were “outstanding”.

Mr Fanelli also spent some time at Surat Thani Provincial Prison, which he said was less crowded than Phuket Prison.

Doctors have prescribed him Depakene, which is used to control mood swings and in the treatment of psychiatric conditions including bipolar disorder and depression, as well as epilepsy.

He was also prescribed Valium to help him sleep and ibuprofen for migraine headaches, he said.

However, all of his medication has run out and he continues to suffer from “the stress of having to watch out for my own physical safety as well as that of my friends who are weaker than me.”

Inmates at the prison are supposed to have access to doctors once a month, he said.

Asked about ya bah use inside the prison, as was recently reported, he said he hadn’t seen any evidence of it. “But I don’t seek it out either,” he said.

As a US Naval officer for 13 years, it would have been impossible for him to do his job on drugs and he had no history of recreational drug use, he said.

Overcrowding at the prison has led to a lack of cleanliness that has given him scabies and other infections he said, holding up his arms to show his sores.

“We sleep asses to elbows here,” he said, adding that some inmates appeared to be suffering from active tuberculosis.

His Thai wife continues to visit him regularly despite the travelling involved. He also saw his son, now 18 months old, when he was in Surat Thani, he added.

To see video of Ronald Fanelli confessing to the killing of Ms Pienjai, click here.

— Stephen Fein


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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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