Last April, Nabha Suthinithet returned to Richmond from Thailand believing his estranged wife, Phengsy, wanted to talk about reconciliation. Instead, Mrs. Suthinithet wanted to discuss their divorce.

The discussions eventually led to her death.

When the couple's last talk in their bedroom turned into arguments and insults, Suthinithet became enraged. He stifled his wife with a pillow, grabbed a hunting knife she kept in the bedroom and repeatedly plunged it into her chest. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Henrico County Circuit Court.

Judge George Tidey convicted Suthinithet, 56, of first-degree murder for killing his 43-year-old wife April 30 in their home at 7301 Erskine St. Suthinithet, a Thai native, fled to Las Vegas after the slaying but was captured a month later.

He will be sentenced in May after a presentence report is completed.

Mrs. Suthinithet had been stabbed in the chest five times and her throat had been slit. Her oldest son, Santi, found her body locked in the bedroom a day later.

During yesterday's hearing, Investigator Robert C. East testified that he interviewed Suthinithet shortly after he was extradited from Las Vegas, Nev. Suthinithet told the detective that the slaying was sparked by a dispute.

The marital problems were rooted in Suthinithet's alcoholism and gambling debts, East said. Police determined that Suthinithet had acquired as many as eight credit cards -- some fraudulently -- and had run up debts in excess of $20,000.

He frequently gambled in Atlantic City, N.J., and Las Vegas and owed money in both cities, according to police. Still, "he didn't feel he had a gambling or drinking problem, " East said.

Suthinithet was living away from the home and had briefly returned to his family in Thailand to try to work out his problems, but he returned to Richmond at his wife's request.

Mrs. Suthinithet made sure their two young sons were either asleep or away when he arrived and held their discussions out of earshot in the bedroom. The night of the murder, the children were asleep in their bedrooms when the couple argued, East said. Suthinithet flew into a rage and attacked her when she slapped him and insulted his family.

The next morning, Suthinithet told his two sons that Mrs. Suthinithet was ill and they shouldn't disturb her. He then took her car and $5,000 in cash, fled to the airport and bought a one-way ticket to Las Vegas.

Before he left, Suthinithet called his sons to make sure they hadn't gone in the bedroom, East said. He then threw the knife in a garbage can.

The Suthinithets' son Santi, who was 13, found the body after noticing bloodstains in the bathroom sink and recalling his father's strange behavior, according to prosecutor J. Michael Estes.

The youth told police that Suthinithet had crept in and out of the bedroom, locking the door behind him, Estes said. He was adamant about not allowing the boys to disturb her and told them they should fix their own lunch.

That night, Santi and his younger brother, wracked by fear, spent the night huddled together, Estes said. In the morning, Santi used an ice cream stick to open the bedroom door and saw his mother in bed with the covers up to her chin.

In Las Vegas, Suthinithet quickly gambled away the money and was forced to pawn his watch, East said. He tried to commit suicide with sleeping pills, but survived and was hospitalized for several days.

He was arrested after the pawnbroker recognized his photograph and tipped off police.

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