Myanmar migrants sentenced to death for murder of British backpackers in Thailand

KOH SAMUI, Thailand - A Thai court on Thursday sentenced two Myanmar migrants to death for murdering two British backpackers found bludgeoned on a resort island last year, a gruesome crime that focused global attention on tourist safety and police conduct in the country.

See Full Article

The court ruled there was sufficient evidence to convict Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22, of killing David Miller, 24, and raping then murdering Hannah Witheridege, 23, last year on the island of Koh Tao.

Andy Hall, an activist working with the defence team, said the two were found guilty on all counts. They face the death penalty but are expected to appeal.

Miller and Witheridge's battered bodies were found Sept. 15, 2014, on the rocky shores of Koh Tao, an island in the Gulf of Thailand known for its white sand beaches and scuba diving. Autopsies showed that the young backpackers, who met on the island while staying at the same hotel, suffered severe head wounds and that Witheridge had been raped.

The killings tarnished the image of Thailand's tourism industry, which was already struggling to recover after the army staged a coup just months earlier in May 2014 and then imposed martial law.

From the start, the case raised questions about police competence. Investigators faced a variety of criticism, starting with their failure to secure the crime scene, and then for releasing several names and pictures of suspects who turned out to be innocent.

After Britain's Foreign Office expressed concern to Thai authorities about the way the investigation was conducted, British police were allowed to observe the case assembled by their Thai counterparts.

Under intense pressure to solve the case, police carried out DNA tests on more than 200 people on Koh Tao.

The two migrants were arrested about two weeks after the murders. Police said the pair had confessed to the killings and that DNA samples linked them to the crimes. Both men later retracted their confessions, saying they had been coerced by the police. Police have denied the accusations.

One of the defendants, Win Zaw Htun, testified that he was tortured, beaten and threatened so he would confess. He told the court that police handcuffed him naked, took pictures of him, "kicked him in the back, punched him, slapped him, threatened to tie him to a rock and drop him in the sea," according to defence lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat.

Zaw Lin, the other defendant, testified that he was blindfolded, beaten on his chest and told he would be killed if he didn't admit to the charges, Nakhon said, adding, "He also said he was constantly suffocated by a plastic bag that was put over his head until he passed out."

The case hinged on DNA evidence that police and prosecutors say link the suspects to the crime but the defence says is flawed.

The defence says that the DNA found on a garden hoe police say was the murder weapon does not belong to the defendants. An expert witness testified that the hoe contained DNA from two males, but not the suspects.

"The prosecution case is marked by an absence of significant evidence needed to prove the guilt of the accused for crimes they are charged with," the defence team said in a statement released this week.

About 2.5 million people from Myanmar work in Thailand, most as domestic servants or in low-skilled manual jobs such as construction, fisheries or the garment sector. Migrants are often abused and mistreated without the safeguard of rights held by Thai citizens.

-----

Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report from Bangkok.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • President says Iran will 'respond' if U.S. missile law passes

    World News CTV News
    TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday his country will respond if a bill in the U.S. Congress imposing sanctions on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program becomes law. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Tuesday and it now goes to the Senate. Source
  • Ohio to execute Ronald Phillips, man convicted of rape and murder of three-year-old

    World News Toronto Sun
    LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Ohio is preparing to put a condemned child killer to death in the state’s first execution in more than three years. Forty-three-year-old Ronald Phillips is scheduled to die Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Source
  • New York eyes ‘textalyzer’ to crack down on distracted drivers

    World News Toronto Sun
    ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state is set to study the use of a device known as the “textalyzer” that would allow police to determine whether a motorist involved in a serious crash was texting while driving. Source
  • Life in prison sought for abduction, rape of 4-year-old girl

    World News CTV News
    BILLINGS, Mont. -- Prosecutors say a Montana man turned every parent's nightmare into reality when he chased down a 4-year-old girl at night in a park, snatched her while a friend watched helplessly, then raped and left her for dead on an American Indian reservation. Source
  • Residential school cemetery in Regina to get provincial heritage designation

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- The chief of the group representing Saskatchewan First Nations says designating a residential school cemetery as a provincial heritage property is a sign of recognition and respect. Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says people went through a horrific time at the Regina Indian Industrial School. Source
  • Stolen tortoise found and returned to animal shelter

    World News CTV News
    New York City police have found a rare tortoise that was stolen from an animal shelter. Police announced Tuesday they have recovered the African spurred tortoise named Millennium that was stolen from the Alley Pond Environmental Center last week. Source
  • Senate health care debate could be suspenseful and raucous

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The Senate's days-long debate on health care features a dynamic that's relatively rare on Capitol Hill. Genuine suspense. Debate kicked off Tuesday without an obvious endgame. Several Republicans voted to start debate but said the bill will have to be changed for them to vote to actually pass the legislation later this week. Source
  • TSB to release report into fatal capsizing of fishing boat off N.B.

    Canada News CTV News
    MONCTON, N.B. -- A new report into the fatal capsizing of a fishing boat that claimed the lives of two men off the coast of northern New Brunswick will be released today. The Transportation Safety Board will release details of its investigation into the June 2016 sinking at a news conference in Moncton, N.B. Source
  • Trump: Liberation from 'Obamacare nightmare' is close

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Celebrating a slim but symbolic health-care win in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump told supporters in Ohio that the nation was one step closer to liberation from the "Obamacare nightmare." "You think that's easy? That's not easy," he told a crowd of thousands just hours after the Senate took a small but hard-fought first step Tuesday toward Republicans' years-long promise to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law. Source
  • N.S. town to bid celebratory send off to derelict environmental ship

    Canada News CTV News
    SHELBURNE, N.S. -- A Nova Scotia town was holding a celebratory send off today for its notorious guest, the MV Farley Mowat, if the weather permitted. The Town of Shelburne invited residents to come to the waterfront to bid farewell to the derelict vessel that was to be towed out of its harbour. Source