Alberta tourist, friend charged with vandalism in Thailand avoid prison

The Grande Prairie, Alta., woman and a friend from the U.K. who were charged with vandalism for spray painting graffiti on an ancient wall in Thailand have avoided prison, but must pay fines.

Brittney Schneider and Furlong Lee, of Liverpool, were arrested in Chiang Mai on Oct. 18. Closed-circuit TV footage showed the pair spray painting a wall near the Tha Phae Gate, the main entrance to the city's old town.

The footage shows Lee writing "Scouser Lee" on the wall.

Schneider, who admits she wrote the letter "B'' underneath it, said the pair had been drinking heavily that night. She described the incident as a drunken mistake. 

They faced up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 1 million Thai baht (about $40,000 Cdn) each.

On Monday in Thailand, Schneider and Lee, both 23, learned they'll be able to go home without spending any time behind bars.

Schneider said hearing the judge's decision was a stressful experience, as they were initially given a two-year prison sentence.

"My heart literally dropped," Schneider said. "I couldn't hear her [the judge] speaking anymore. I could just see her mouth moving. My legs were shaking and I just wanted to drop to the floor."

Brittney Schneider/Facebook

Schneider said the judge quickly reduced her sentence to a year, and then finally gave them a fine of 100,000 baht (about $4,000 each) and a one-year suspended sentence.

Schneider is allowed to go home, but if she commits any crimes in Thailand during that time, she would have to serve that sentence, according to her mother, Tara Schneider.

Brittney Schneider said she isn't sure why the judge reduced the sentence, but said it could be because she doesn't have a criminal record.

"She was super compassionate and I'm so thankful that she was," Schneider told CBC on the phone Monday from Thailand.

"I'm really excited to go home and put this behind me. Obviously, I've learned a lot from this experience."

Schneider said she is waiting for some paperwork to go through before she can fly home to Alberta. 

"I've gotten a lot of hate online, a lot from my hometown, and I'm a little scared to go home to see how people are going to treat me," she said. 

"I know I'm not a bad person. I made a bad decision." 

Tara Schneider has been in Thailand, supporting her daughter throughout the ordeal. She said she felt an immediate sense of relief when she learned her daughter could go home.

"I've never won the lottery in my life, but at that moment I think I can experience what winning the lottery would feel like," she said.

Respecting the culture

The pair have been taking in Thai culture, visiting temples, learning the language, and speaking with locals. 

Brittney Schneider said she'll be more considerate of other cultures during her travels, and that she'll study countries before visiting and respect the laws.

"I want people to see, like, what I did, obviously, and learn from it, not make the same mistake I did," she said.

"I'm very sorry for what I've done."

Schneider said she would love to return to Thailand one day. 

"I'm not banned from here. I'm allowed to come back," she said. "I would love to come back to Thailand. I love this place."