Hearing Opens for Father in Son's Death

Times Staff Writer

Friends of a Sylmar man charged with killing his 9-year-old son testified Wednesday that he had written letters to them saying he planned to commit suicide and take his son with him. He said he wanted to die to be "born again as a Thai."

Ronald Rennie, 37, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges with the special allegation that he administered poison to his son, Christopher. If convicted, Rennie would face the death penalty. His preliminary hearing began in Van Nuys Municipal Court and will continue today.

In a letter written to Arnupap Kiertivattsanond, a Thai immigrant, Rennie said he was despondent because he "loved Thais and Thailand. Thais don't care for me. . . . They only hate me and laugh at me. I pray that God will let me be born again as a Thai."

Rennie, who owned a Thai restaurant in Van Nuys, told authorities that he served in the Air Force and was stationed in Thailand and that he was divorced from a Thai woman, Detective David Berglund said.

Content of Letter

"By the time you receive this letter, Chris, my son, and I will be dead," Rennie wrote. "I have tried talking with people. No one cares to listen, so life is not worth living for me. I don't want to leave my son alone in this world. I am taking him with me so he will be with his dad."

Kiertivattsanond testified that Rennie left the letter along with the deed to his townhouse, his will, keys to his car and $1,000 in an envelope under Kiertivattsanond's bed. Kiertivattsanond said he became aware of the letter only after police contacted him.

Christopher was found dead inside his father's Ralston Avenue townhouse June 20, 1988.

Police were alerted by Rennie's attorney, Michael Donner, who said that he had received a letter from his client saying that he intended to kill himself and his son.

When authorities arrived at the house soon after hearing from Donner, the boy was found dead at the foot of his father's bed, Sgt. Jay O'Reilly Frey testified. Rennie was lying on the bed near his son in a semiconscious state, Frey testified.

Authorities found nine emptied canisters of insecticide in the townhouse, Frey said. Police also found books on how to commit suicide with passages underlined, he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan M. Speer said that Christopher died of exposure to insecticides. Speer said both father and son also took an overdose of tranquilizers and tetracycline, an antibiotic.

Obedient Child

Julie Titus, another friend of Rennie's, described Christopher as a boy who "obeyed his father without question" and held him "in awe."

She said that Rennie had told her he had discussed suicide with his son and that "Chris said he wanted to go with him."

Titus testified that she contacted police after hearing of the suicide plans.

Robert C. Swanson, who is representing Rennie in the criminal case, said that his client only "aided and abetted" his son's suicide.

"There is no evidence of force being used on Christopher, " Swanson said. "He clearly could have walked out."

He said that the boy signed a suicide note but would not say if the boy had actually written the note.

Rennie is being held in County Jail without bail.

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