Thai trial provides healing for victim's sister and friend

FOUND DEAD: Charles Jones had received a Queen's Service medal for his contribution to croquet.
FOUND DEAD: Charles Jones had received a Queen's Service medal for his contribution to croquet.

A sister and friend of murdered Westport man Charles Jones have a sense of closure since travelling to Thailand last week to give evidence at his killer's trial.

"It's a healing step," Jones' sister, Alison McMillan, said.

She and Jones' friend, Stuart Yeatman, both of Christchurch, went to Pattaya for the court hearing on November 7 of Mohamad Shanar Ryad, a former Syrian army commando and United Nations-registered refugee accused of the brutal murder.

Jones, 56, was the World Croquet Federation president and was five days into a six-week holiday at the Thai beach resort when he was slain in his rented apartment on August 22 last year.

Yeatman discovered his body the next morning and helped Thai police to capture his killer, then aged 22. He was arrested four days later with Jones' computer, cellphone and watch.

Ryad admitted killing the New Zealander but claimed Jones had tried to rape him at knifepoint so he stabbed him to death.

McMillan said she had struggled to comprehend her brother's murder and went to Thailand to defend his reputation.

Some details that emerged shocked her, including that he was stabbed 27 times. However, she felt no malice when she saw her brother's killer for the first time.

He was led into the courtroom with his legs manacled, linked by a chain to wrist irons, and sat within arm's reach of her in court. "I couldn't quite get my head around the whole thing. Just to be there to see this is the man who had taken Charles' life, I thought I should feel angry but I can't. His eyes seemed so empty, like there was nothing there."

Yeatman spent most of the day in the witness box being questioned about his friend, whom he knew for about four years.

"‘I feel I've been heard and I feel I've done my job as far as my friendship to Charles goes and my obligations to him."

His friend's murder had been hard to cope with on top of rebuilding his Christchurch business, which was destroyed in the February quake, he said.

"I was a bit worried going back and that it would stuff me up in the head but it did the opposite."

On the night of the murder, Yeatman had dropped Jones at his apartment to meet Ryad, whom Jones had befriended and had met twice previously.

When he failed to turn up at breakfast, Yeatman investigated and found his body in his apartment. A cellphone sim card belonging to Jones, which Yeatman told Thai police about, helped them to track down the killer.

"I found him. I found the killer and helped make sure he faces the outcome of the Thai court."

He told the court Jones would never attack someone and was incapacitated with an injured shoulder from a fall in England. "Charles was the meekest, mildest guy."

Yeatman said he trusted the court to properly deal with his friend's killer but hoped he didn't get the death penalty.

"We can see a young man who has gone so far over the line, you can say unequivocally he has ruined his life."

Ryad would next appear in court on January 15, when his defence lawyer would put his case.

They were told he planned to admit it was a botched robbery and drop his allegations against Jones.

Sunday Star Times