Thai double murder: Two get death penalty

Myanmar migrant workers Win Zaw Tun (left) and Zaw Lin after they were sentenced to death at the Samui Provincial Court on Koh Samui island yesterday. The verdict and sentence follow an investigation and trial that triggered allegations of police inc
Myanmar migrant workers Win Zaw Tun (left) and Zaw Lin after they were sentenced to death at the Samui Provincial Court on Koh Samui island yesterday. The verdict and sentence follow an investigation and trial that triggered allegations of police incompetence, mishandling of evidence and DNA tests, and torture of the suspects. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

KOH SAMUI • Two Myanmar migrant workers have been sentenced to death after being convicted by a Thai court of the 2014 murders of two young British tourists on a holiday island in a case mired in controversy and a dispute over DNA testing.

The battered bodies of backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were found on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in September last year. Police said Ms Witheridge, 23, had been raped and bludgeoned to death. Mr Miller, 24, also suffered blows to his head.

Following weeks of pressure to solve the case, police arrested Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun and later said the two had confessed to the crimes.

The brutality of the murders dented Thailand's image as a happy-go-lucky holiday paradise and raised serious questions about its treatment of migrant workers.

The verdict and sentence follow an investigation and trial that triggered allegations of police incompetence, mishandling of evidence and DNA tests, and torture of the suspects. Both later retracted their confessions saying they had been made under duress.

The verdict came after 21 days of witness hearings in a trial that began in July and ended in October.

As is customary in Thailand, where trials are not held before a jury, a judge delivered the verdict and sentence and said the DNA tests by investigators were carried out to acceptable standards and the DNA found on Ms Witheridge matched those of the defendants.

The DNA samples that police say linked the two suspects to Ms Witheridge were at the heart of the trial. Defence lawyers had asked to retest the DNA samples but the authorities issued conflicting statements on DNA evidence and, at one point, said they had been "used up".

Defence lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat told reporters that the defendants would file an appeal within a month.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'Thai double murder: Two get death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe