Updated October 9, 2020 - 6:11 pm
A man will serve at least 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing a Las Vegas woman and then keeping her bullet-riddled body in a 55-gallon metal drum.
Chuck Chaiyakul, 39, was sentenced in Clark County District Court on Friday. At the time of his arrest in September 2019, he told Las Vegas police that he had shot single mother Jennifer Ratay six times as he drove near Lake Mead and Jones boulevards.
She was sitting in the front passenger seat, which police later discovered had been removed from the car. Chaiyakul eventually poured two bottles of ammonia over Ratay’s body and sealed her corpse inside the metal drum.
During the sentencing, 10 of Ratay’s relatives and friends wore shirts with pictures of the smiling mother and her daughter. They wore black face masks bearing the words “Justice for Jen.”
“She must have known that she was viciously violated, and nobody was there to help her,” said her tearful mother, Mary Ann Ratay, as she addressed District Judge Tierra Jones.
She described her only daughter, who was 39, as a strong-willed, loving person who never stood for being disrespected and took life into her own hands.
“There will always be a Jennifer-sized hole in my heart and in my life,” she said.
Jennifer Ratay’s daughter, 16-year-old Kelsi Jackson, testified that she counted each of the 402 days without her mom. The missed homecoming dance, the missed cheerleading events, holidays, birthday, her first day at her first job. Teaching her daughter to become an independent woman.
“I lost my mother, my best friend, my separate half. … She was my backbone and helped me through so much. Everything I do reminds me of her,” she said.
Prosecutor Erika Mendoza told the judge that Chaiyakul is “incredibly violent” and referenced the court documents that state he shot Ratay six times and then drove around as she struggled to breathe, her mouth filling with blood.
“This is a case that I think I’m going to carry with me for a very long time. Obviously, we have these extremely atrocious facts,” Mendoza said. “I don’t think the law gives us a sufficient penalty for this murder.”
Appearing in court via video, Chaiyakul wore glasses and a blue surgical mask and pleaded for forgiveness.
“I know I’m not a bad person, but I do have a serious drug problem, which I have no control over. … I would do anything to take it back, or be in her place,” he said.
“I do hope (the family) will find peace and forgiveness. It saddens me to the point of restlessness. But I must face this for the rest of my life.”
He pleaded guilty in August to second-degree murder with a deadly weapon.
Before sentencing Chaiyakul to 10 years to life for the murder and an additional eight years for the deadly weapon enhancement, Jones commended the attorneys for coming to a resolution during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when there has been a backlog in cases. Then, she turned to the victim’s family.
“I wish there was something that I could do today that is going to stop you guys from hurting,” she said.
Chaiyakul will be credited for a year of time served since his arrest in the case.
The defendant, who has a criminal history in Clark County dating to at least 2005, was released from a Nevada prison in December 2018. Court records show that he served a minimum two-year sentence in connection with a 2017 case for being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
According to the same records, he pleaded guilty in 2005 to manufacturing or importing dangerous weapons.
After the hearing, Mary Ann Ratay hugged her granddaughter. The two agreed that there “would never be justice.”
But they each keep her ashes in a locket, so she’s always with them.