Clare Farr, a Western Australia trademarks attorney, read about Pornchai Moontri at These Stone Walls and set in motion a Divine Mercy saga spanning five continents.
INTRODUCTION BY FATHER GORDON MACRAE
The following is a guest post by Clare Farr, a registered trademarks attorney in Western Australia. Clare is partner with her husband, Malcolm Farr, principal of the Farr Intellectual Property law firm near Perth. She is the mother of five young adults. In 2003, while reading These Stone Walls, Clare and Malcolm immersed themselves, entirely pro bono, in the cause of Pornchai Moontri.
Clare, especially, served as a bridge to find and cultivate essential contacts for Pornchai to secure a future in Thailand, and to seek justice for him in the United States. Without Clare Farr’s assistance, this story I told in “Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night” could not have come entirely to light.
Please share Clare’s amazing account of Divine Mercy that connects people on five continents for a story that Pornchai Moontri once summarized in a single sentence: “I awoke one day with a future when up to then all I ever had was a past.” It is an honor to present this guest post by Clare Farr.
WHEN JUSTICE CAME TO PORNCHAI MOONTRI, MERCY FOLLOWED
It was in about the year 2010 when I first read about the plight of Fr Gordon and his cellmate, Pornchai Moontri. The more I read about Fr Gordon, I became convinced of his innocence and outraged that this holy and devout Catholic priest could be sent to prison given the paucity and quality of the evidence against him.
Many people including highly regarded journalists and lawyers find this case very troubling yet the higher ups in the Diocese of Manchester, government lawyers, politicians and those in the judiciary must have very thick skins and are prepared to let this case rest and turn their gaze the other way. They must rest their laurels on the fact that the “legal system did its job.” Well, it didn’t – it was an abysmal failure. Quite frankly, the outcome is deeply unsettling and a blight on the justice system of the United States.
The Fr Gordon MacRae that I have come to know is a man of tremendous intellect and wisdom who counsels and shares his insight and understanding of the Catholic faith to the many among his global readership as well as his fellow prisoners in the New Hampshire Prison for Men. He is just about as fine a priest as I have ever known, and the way that he has been treated by the Diocese of Manchester and many other Catholic priests is quite disgraceful.
Before the commencement of MacRae’s trial, he was not given any chance to respond to the allegations against him, yet the Diocese issued a press release in which it stated:
“The Church has been a victim of the actions of Gordon MacRae just like these individuals…”
If the Church believed Fr Gordon was guilty – what was a jury to think? The trial was compromised before it even began – sabotaged by the Diocese of Manchester.
Three years ago Bishop Libasci wrote to me “…please be assured that both my predecessor and I have understood and fulfilled our obligations as bishops with respect to Father MacRae’s rights under civil and canon law”. At the time of the press release, Bishop Leo O’Neil was the head of the diocese and he was not Bishop Libasci’s predecessor but rather, one of his predecessors. However, the upshot of acts undertaken during Bishop O’Neil’s term as Bishop have had a never-ending adverse impact on Fr Gordon and this should be acknowledged and addressed by his successors.
I’m certainly no expert on canon law though I as far as I know canonical equity dictates that there must be a balance between the spirit of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. I fail to see how doing nothing to address past wrongs done to Fr Gordon, including but not limited to dealing with Fr Gordon’s incarceration as a live issue (which is partly the Diocese’s own fault) and the payment of a regular stipend, has met these requirements.
Whatever Fr Gordon’s fate is, there is one thing for sure: when he passes on to the next life he will be greatly rewarded for all the good he has done in his life. Similarly, those who have lied about him, who have persecuted him or who have added to his misery and his circumstances will also have to stand before the Creator and account for their actions – or inaction. Heaven help them.
A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
In late 2013 I chanced upon an article about Pornchai Moontri by Charlene Duline, “Pornchai Moontri is Worth Saving.” Charlene was pleading for anyone who could advocate on behalf of Pornchai, so I contacted her. I thought that even though I live in Western Australia, I might be able to help somehow. At that stage Pornchai had been in prison for more than 20 years. There was no question that he was involved in the death of Michael Scott McDowell and that a jury had found him guilty of murder. I knew that he was far from a model prisoner at the start of his sentence, but that he had a remarkable conversion to the Catholic faith and that he had achieved an abundance of qualifications in prison. Indeed, he seemed to be a model prisoner.
From everything I had read about Pornchai and the trial, and from all that I have come to know about this story, it seems that a 45-year sentence is grossly excessive. Pornchai had unsuccessfully appealed the sentence decision many years ago – so it seemed that the only recourse for him was to petition the Governor of Maine to exercise clemency for his release from prison. After a great deal of research into Pornchai’s life, in March 2015 we submitted a petition to the Governor of Maine seeking an order of executive clemency. In October 2015 it was rejected.
Pornchai has never had an opportunity to tell a court about his life and what led to his conviction. He has never really told the full story, some of which he did not even know about – but I know it. Father Gordon knows about it too and wrote much of it in these pages last week. What follows is the story that I want to emphasize, so here goes…
Pornchai was born to a family in Thailand and at age two he and his brother were abandoned by both parents and raised by their maternal grandparents for the next 9 years. With them, he had a wonderful family life and he and his brother were happy and well looked after. With their mother absent for so long, they came to believe that their aunt was their real mother. Pornchai was much loved by his mother’s family.
When he was 11, his mother, Wannee came to retrieve the boys. She told them that she was their mother and that she was going to take them with her to live in America, and that they would have a good life with her and her new American husband, Richard Alan Bailey. Within two weeks of arriving in Maine, Pornchai was violently sexually abused by Bailey. Wannee had unknowingly married a sexual predator and the two brothers became his victims. Pornchai ran away from home but was returned home by the police. He tried to tell them what had been happening but he couldn’t speak English and they couldn’t understand him, so he was returned to live in the home of his abuser. He had only just turned 12 years of age. It was December of 1985.
Pornchai was unable to tell his mother at that time because Bailey had threatened what would happen if he told anyone. About a week later he did tell her about the abuse and her reaction was to refuse to believe him and to punish him for telling lies. The abuse was ongoing, and Pornchai ran away again and again until eventually he had no home to return to. He became a homeless teenager on the streets of a foreign country. For several years he was in and out of juvenile detention centers, stayed when he could in the homes of friends, lived in a treehouse, under a bridge and found shelter wherever he could. He was often forced to steal food to survive. Eventually the court would punish him with detention and other penalties. He spent time in juvenile detention facilities and he had some counselling. At these facilities he formed good relationships with a lot of people but there was always some bullying and racial vilification by other students and with the emotional baggage that he was carrying, sometimes it was all too much to bear and he would become enraged. Eventually he was expelled from the school when he acted up against this abuse.
At two separate juvenile detention facilities he disclosed the abuse by his stepfather. His teachers and therapists believed him and reported the allegations to their superiors. Referring to the abuse allegation, one 1988 report to Child Protection stated:
“….Totally destroyed boy’s faith in family – mother made aware – did nothing. Boy began to habitually run away – Boy terrified father will take out some type of revenge on mother.”
When Pornchai was still living in Bailey’s home, his mother felt too threatened by Bailey to believe her son’s story of abuse. She then became especially hostile to him, called him names and lashed out at him in a number of ways. His home life had become highly dysfunctional and his mother was also physically and emotionally abusing him and telling him that she wished he hadn’t been born, most likely as a symptom of her own frustration and anger in living in a highly toxic environment with a violent and abusive man.
Eventually Wannee did accept that he told the truth but notwithstanding, she put much pressure on Pornchai not to discuss the abuse with anyone. She was living in fear herself.
After his expulsion from the Goodwill Hinckley School shortly before his 18th birthday, Pornchai tried to lead a normal life and get a job, finally finding work as a bus boy with a chain restaurant, but he was fired because he couldn’t provide a residential address which had been a condition of his employment.
As he lived on the streets and had received threats, he began to carry a knife for protection. At 18 years of age and after becoming very drunk one night, he went with his friend Danny Williams to a supermarket. There he got into an altercation in the parking lot. When tackled by a much larger and heavier man, in a reflex reaction he pulled the knife and Michael Scott McDowell died. It was unintentional, but nevertheless it was a terrible action for which an innocent man died. For the last 26 years Pornchai has carried with him the life of the man who died and after his conversion prayed diligently for his soul.
Whilst there is no excuse for the death of Michael Scott McDowell – I ask the reader to consider that moment when Pornchai, a small and light framed 18-year-old was tackled by a much heavier built man. Given his history of sexual assault by an older man – isn’t it just possible that mixed up with the distress of the moment there was the revulsion and terror of having a large man pin him down and take control of him? I can definitely see the connection and understand why using a knife in these drunken circumstances would have occurred.
While he was in prison and awaiting trial, Wannee visited Pornchai and pleaded with him not to mention the sexual assaults in court, as she would suffer at the hands of Richard Bailey if he did so. Against legal advice, Pornchai, fearing for his mother’s safety, refused to present any defence at trial.
PORNCHAI’S DESCENT INTO HELL
In the sentencing phase of the trial, Bailey had written to the trial judge on behalf of himself and Wannee and essentially blamed Pornchai’s situation on him getting in with a bad crowd and his difficulty in adjusting to life in America. He wrote:
“As a father, who is prejudiced by love for his son, and also a former law enforcement officer that a lengthy sentence for such a young man would not serve the State of Maine, the McDowell family, or Pornchai Moontri.”
That’s about as kind as he had ever been to Pornchai. He has never once visited him in prison, has written only one letter to him and even then, he merely apologised to Pornchai for being so hard on him. He has never provided any material support for him since Pornchai was arrested.
Wannee divorced Bailey in 2000. By that time, she and Bailey had relocated to Guam where they owned property. They agreed on a division of assets and court orders were made including an order that their home be sold. In February 2000 Wannee returned to Guam in order to confront Bailey about delays in the sale of the home and the payment of monies which he was supposed to pay her. Not long afterwards, Bailey reported her missing from their isolated home in Guam and the following day he reported that he found her body. Her autopsy report and death certificate note that her death was the result of a homicide. No one has ever been charged for her death.
On the night she went missing she telephoned her niece and told her that Bailey was in a rage and that if she didn’t return from Guam, it meant she had been murdered. Prophetic words…
Under the court orders Bailey was to pay certain money to Wannee beyond April 2000. It appears that the administrator of Wannee’s estate was not aware that Bailey still owed money to the Estate so the debt was not pursued. At the time of her death Pornchai was in prison so there was no one around who would have known about the court orders other than Bailey.
Following a police investigation and grand jury indictments, in early 2017 Bailey was charged with 40 counts of Gross Sexual Misconduct. The victims were Pornchai and his brother Priwan.
Knowing that there has been a criminal case against Bailey has been difficult for Pornchai over the past few years because he has had to relive the past, give statements and go over things again and again. Thank God that his cellmate is Fr Gordon MacRae who provides spiritual advice and good counsel. Fr Gordon has had a huge positive impact on Pornchai’s life. Without his continuous efforts to pursue justice and for Pornchai’s story to be made known, the truth would never have come out.
In March 2017 the Bailey case went before the Superior Court of Maine, and following a number of arraignments, the matter was before the Court September 11, 2018. On that date, Bailey formally entered a plea of nolo contendere – his attorney indicated that Bailey denied any wrongdoing but that he would not contest the charges and agreed to be sentenced by the court. The Victims Impact Statements of both brothers were read to the court and the judge was quite shaken and deeply moved by the statements. The case was adjourned to the following day, September 12.
As is common in the US legal system, the Office of the District Attorney had agreed on a plea deal with Bailey’s attorney which provided for a suspended sentence of 17 years with a probation period imposing strict conditions – but the length of such probation had not been agreed upon. However, the judge found Bailey guilty on all 40 charges and imposed a longer suspended sentence of 18 years, the whole of which would be subject to very strict probation conditions. It appears that the judge had to take Bailey’s claims of poor health into consideration (he is four years older than Fr Gordon), but also the impact of a trial on both brothers. At the hearing, Pornchai’s brother was quite visibly distraught. Despite there being no prison term for Bailey, I think that justice has been served in this case. The judge was obviously more than satisfied that Bailey is guilty and ordered a longer sentence on probation than in the plea agreement that was submitted to the court.
THE DIVINE MERCY REDEMPTION
Over the past few years, myself and others have been planning what happens with Pornchai when he is eventually deported at the end of his sentence. Then out of the blue, a wonderful lady from Bangkok named Yela Smit contacted Fr Gordon to find out how she could help. Yela was the co-director of the Divine Mercy Apostolate in Thailand. She has since gathered a lot of support for Pornchai and offered practical assistance. We have spoken a number of times on the phone and I distinctly remember her saying to me “He’s going to have a wonderful life in Thailand, he’ll wonder why he ever stayed so long in America”. Yela’s input was invaluable. Knowing about Pornchai’s conversion and his Marian consecration – to find Yela was a Godsend as are her friends, Khun Peter in Thailand and Viktor Weyand, an American travel agent. Viktor was a co-founder of a Divine Mercy orphanage and school in Thailand, and two years ago travelled to Thailand for the priesthood ordination of the first resident of the orphanage. Viktor has since become a very dear friend to Pornchai, and he and his wife have visited Pornchai at Christmas time.
In “A Stitch in Time: Threads of the Tapestry of God”, Fr Gordon wrote about this amazing tapestry where the lives of people from all over the world touch each other, and I am proud to have been part of it. Fr Gordon wrote:
“This story now connects people on five continents who have no obvious connection beyond their interest in Pornchai’s life and their immersion in the work of Divine Mercy.”
People from around the world have all used their skills and life experience to help Pornchai, all being driven and guided by Heaven. We all had an important part to play and we did what was expected of us.
Pornchai’s story is a great story on so many different levels. It is a story of faith and Divine Mercy. It’s a story of great tragedy followed by a dramatic conversion, a Marian consecration and a faith filled life. It’s the story of a young agnostic child in Bangkok who became a truly holy and devout man with hope for tomorrow and who survived the most brutal prison life. He is not just prisoner number 77948 – he is a truly remarkable and unique man who will give witness and glory to God.
It’s also a story of the power of prayer and of Divine Providence. None of us could have achieved anything without help from above. All of you who have prayed and fasted and given practical assistance to Pornchai and Fr Gordon are also a very important part of the tapestry. Without faith and prayer, nothing would have been achieved. So, consider it a collective effort guided by the Lord with a lot of help from Our Lady. All of the key players who have and are helping Pornchai have a connection with Divine Mercy and are Marian devotees and we all came together to help Pornchai.
Fr Gordon has spoken about Fr Seraphim Michalenko’s involvement in Pornchai’s life. Several years ago, a friend asked me if I wanted to go to a talk by a visiting priest to be held at the home of a friend in the Perth hill in Western Australia. I had never heard of the priest before but knew that he was going to give a talk on Divine Mercy. His name was Fr Seraphim Michalenko. At the talk I found out more about St Faustina’s revelations and of the two miracles that led to the canonisation of Faustina. I even had a private chat with Fr Seraphim.
In the 2014 post, Fr Seraphim Michalenko on a Mission of Divine Mercy, Fr Gordon told us that the Felix Carroll book, Love Lost Found – 17 Divine Mercy Conversions with its chapter about Pornchai was sent by Fr Seraphim to Yela Smit in Thailand. That’s how Yela became involved. Another Divine Mercy connection is that Fr Seraphim was the director of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and he has been a visiting priest to the chapel of the New Hampshire Prison for Men and has also participated in a Divine Mercy Retreat at the prison. What are the odds that I would ever meet Fr Seraphim? – and the fact that he has a connection to Pornchai and Fr Gordon is amazing. The tapestry Fr Gordon wrote about gets more amazing by the day and I know that I will never know the full extent of it.
Pornchai will probably be in prison until at least the first half of 2021 when he will be eligible for release and once released he will be held in detention by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. He will then be deported to his native Thailand because he is not an American citizen.
Pornchai has made the most of prison life and has received a good education and has many vocational skills. He is not bitter at all. As for his thoughts on Bailey – when asked by the Assistant District Attorney if he wanted Bailey to go to prison – Pornchai said to her, “No, I don’t want him to go to prison – I just want him to know that what he did was wrong.” Awesome! I don’t know if I could utter those words if I was in Pornchai’s position but whilst old memories will always be there, he has forgiven Bailey. He looks back on the past with great sadness, but doesn’t dwell on it and he has great hope for the future. It will be a culture shock to return to a country where he no longer speaks the language but he has new friends to meet and a career to begin.
Many people have prayed for Pornchai and continue to keep him in their prayers. Without a doubt this has helped him enormously and God’s providence has also rained down upon him.
Please keep him in your prayers and pray that he will transition smoothly into Thai life, that he will forge a good career that will make him financially independent and that he will truly find peace.
And continue to pray for Fr Gordon MacRae who in my eyes is a living saint. Without him, his tenacity and unwavering efforts to help Pornchai, this story would have never come to light.
- Father Seraphim Michalenko on a Mission of Divine Mercy
- Saint Maximilian Kolbe and the Gift of Noble Defiance
- If Loved Ones Fall from Faith, Let Them See You Believe
- Dreamers of Home: The Slow ICE Deportation of Kewei Chen