LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A Las Vegas man is expected to be sentenced on Friday after accepting a plea deal in which he admits he stuffed a woman's body into a 55-gallon drum with ammonia in order to dispose of evidence, court records show.
Chuck Chaiyakul will serve a life term behind bars as part of the agreement with the Clark County District Attorney's Office but may be eligible for parole as soon as 2031, according to authorities.
This comes as the family is still coming to grips with the crime that shocked them in September 2019.
"We never got to see any of her remains, we just had to go by what they told us and it's just horrendous," said Mary Ann Ratay, Jennifer's mother.
Ratay points to the details outlined by investigators that show prosecutors believed they could prove first-degree murder months before a plea agreement was offered.
According to court filings in May 2020, Chaiyakul admitted to police he shot and killed Jennifer days before her body was located.
A transcript of an interview with Chaiykul's brother revealed the motive centered around a disagreement over drugs and sex in the days leading up to the deadly encounter.
"He told me that he was gonna shoot her before," Andrew Chaiyakul told investigators.
"Just 'cause she didn't wanna have sex with him or somethin'" he added.
The story given to investigators is something Mary Ann has doubts about.
"He wanted her to be more than just a friend and he didn't like her rejection. I believe she was abducted when all this happened," said Mary Ann Ratay.
During an interrogation with police, Chiayakul told police he shot Jennifer and "emptied a clip" using a gun he previously stole, during a struggle while the pair were driving in Las Vegas.
Chiayakul said the pair were arguing over some property be believed she had stolen and her unwillingness to have sex with him.
He described their relationship as surrounding around methamphetamine and sex.
Chaiyakul told police he drove around while Jennifer struggled for her life and she could not speak due to her mouth filling with blood.
Chaiyakul added he drove around until there were no signs of life and proceeded to dump parts of the gun around Las Vegas.
"To me, that's something, that's a major, sick crime," added Mary Ann Ratay.
The police investigation revealed in the days after the shooting, Chaiyakul acquired a 55-gallon drum and ammonia.
Chaiyakul told police he stashed Jennifer's body in his mother's garage until she complained about a smell in the late summer heat.
"He just did that he did to get rid of her body so he wouldn't possibly get caught, said Mary Ann Ratay.
"The underlying offense here is horrendous, beyond that, he was priors for just about everything, there's arrests for drugs, violence, sex cases, domestic violence and he has a raging meth problem," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Erika Mendoza during a virtual court hearing on May 14, 2020.
At the time, Chaiyakul's attorney was asking for bail to be set, or for him to be released on his own recognizance amid concerns over COVID-19 at the Clark County Detention Center.
"I think the community and his family are all at great danger if he's released," Mendoza told a judge.
A judge decided no bail was appropriate nor was a release from jail.
Court records indicate prosecutors believe they had enough evidence to prove a first degree murder charge and Mary Ann and Kelsi agreed but in August 2020 another virtual court hearing brought another twist.
"My understanding is you have agreed to plead guilty to one count of second-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon, is that correct?" asked Judge Douglas Herndon during the hearing.
"Yes, sir," responded Chuck Chaiyakul.
Prosecutors cut a deal with Chaiyakul for a life sentence with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 10 years behind bars plus an undecided weapon enhancement term.
The deal, Mary Ann says, she was not consulted about until after it was already offered and on the table.
Mary Ann questions if COVID-19 court complications and the associated massive back up of cases, motivated a plea deal.
"That's not what was said a couple of months prior, but I have to trust, I didn't really have a choice," added Mary Ann
13 Investigates asked the Clark County District Attorneys office about the second degree murder deal and received the following statement:
“Our office takes the tragic murder of Ms. Ratay seriously, and my condolences go out to her family. The defendant in this case has entered a plea of guilty to second degree murder with use of a deadly weapon. He will be sentenced to life in prison. The judge will determine the soonest date of parole eligibility, which could be anywhere from 11-18 years. Parole is never guaranteed. After an open murder case is initially charged, there is typically further review and investigation leading up to a trial or negotiation. There are many elements that must be proven in a case, and premeditation is one that is required for a first degree murder conviction. Through the review process, my office determined that a second degree murder charge was the most appropriate, given the evidence. A guilty plea guarantees the defendant will be held accountable for his crime, something that is never guaranteed if a case goes to trial.”
"It helps me thinking that there is some kind of justice for my mom, and it helps me think that he's getting put into prison for the years that he's going to," said Kelsi Jackson.
As the Chaiyakul cases moves toward a resolution, there are hundreds of more in line.
13 Investigates has learned COVID-19 related protocols and closures have led to a massive case back up.
District court trials were allowed to resume in late September after a six-month hiatus.
"We have 330 murder cases we've got over 2000 people sitting in the county jail waiting for their cases to be resolved and thousands more of out of custody cases that are still in the system and or entering the system," said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.
Wolfson says justice delayed is not justice denied.
"There are families that are having their justice delayed, that is the reality of the situation, but they're not being denied the justice, they may have to wait a little longer but we're not giving up on on achieving justice," said Wolfson.
As for Mary Ann and Kelsi, they now keep Jennifer's ashes in a locket to remember a life lost but not forgotten.
The district attorneys office says Chuck Chaiyakul could be eligible for parole between 11 and 18 years once he is officially sentenced.