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

KOH SAMUI, Thailand - A Thai court on Thursday sentenced two Burmese migrants to death for the murder of two British backpackers on a resort island last year, in a case that raised questions about police competence and the judicial system in Thailand.

See Full Article

Human Rights Watch called the verdict "profoundly disturbing," citing the defendants' accusations of police torture that were never investigated and questionable DNA evidence linking them to the crime.

Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22, have denied killing David Miller, 24, and raping then murdering Hannah Witheridge, 23, last year on the island of Koh Tao. Their defence attorney said they planned 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.

In its ruling, the court on nearby Samui island, said that prosecutors had presented evidence from the crime scene and provided witness testimony that proved "without any doubt to the court" that the two men had killed Miller and raped Witheridge before murdering her "to cover up their wrongdoings." DNA evidence showed that the semen of both men was found inside Witheridge, the court said.

In an emotional statement after the verdict, Miller's family said they had initial doubts about the investigation but found the evidence against the accused to be "absolutely overwhelming."

"Justice is what has been delivered today. We respect this court and its decision completely," said Michael Miller, the brother of David, reading from a statement beside his two parents.

"Our lives have been changed forever, nothing brings David home. No last hugs. No goodbyes," his brother said, describing David as intelligent, hard-working, caring and fun. "He is irreplaceable to us. Our hearts will always be filled with the brightness that he brought to our lives."

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.

From the start, the case raised questions about police conduct. 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, who had entered Thailand illegally and were working on the island, 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, also known as Wai Phyo, 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.

Thailand's best known forensics scientist, Porntip Rojanasunand, testified that police had mishandled evidence, including the hoe the authorities say was the murder weapon. She tested the hoe and found that it contained DNA from two males - but not from the suspects.

Human Rights Watch called for the verdict to be reviewed in a "transparent and fair appeal process."

"In a trial where torture allegations by the two accused were left uninvestigated and DNA evidence was called into question by Thailand's most prominent forensic pathologist, both the verdict and these death sentences are profoundly disturbing," said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

About 2.5 million people from Burma 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 writers Jocelyn Gecker and Nattasuda Anusonadisai contributed to this report from Bangkok.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Brazil police arrest 10 men accused of stealing millions in Paraguay

    World News CTV News
    SAO PAULO - Ten men suspected of taking part in a dramatic, multimillion-dollar theft from an armoured car company in a Paraguayan border city have been arrested in Brazil, officials in the Brazilian Federal Police said Tuesday. Source
  • Hearing begins into Canada Post ban on controversial newspaper Your Ward News

    Canada News CBC News
    A board of review hearing began Tuesday into a federal order prohibiting a Toronto-area publication that's been called vile, racist and anti-Semitic from being sent in the mail. The people who run the newspaper Your Ward News are challenging the order put in place in June, 2016, by the then-federal minister responsible for Canada Post. Source
  • Robert Durst's wife told neighbour of beating, threats: detective

    World News CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- The missing wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst once told a neighbour that her husband had beat her and she feared he would kill her, a retired detective testified Tuesday. Source
  • Rio slum dwellers protest deadly gang, police gunbattles

    World News CTV News
    RIO DE JANEIRO -- Hundreds of Brazilians have taken to the streets of the Alemao slum complex in Rio de Janeiro to protest gunbattles between police and gangsters that have killed at least four people and wounded six others, including three policemen. Source
  • Republican senator regrets saying guy in tutu 'kind of asks for it'

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- A Republican senator from Wyoming said Tuesday he regrets his poor choice of words after telling students a man who wears a tutu to a bar and gets into fights "kind of asks for it. Source
  • Margaret Evans on why South Sudan's famine will continue 'for a long time to come'

    World News CBC News
    In South Sudan, a long-running conflict is having increasingly dire consequences, as food shortages put more and more lives at risk. South Sudan plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice-president. Source
  • CBC London, Ont. station set to launch in June

    Canada News CBC News
    CBC will open its London, Ont. station in June as the national public broadcaster delivers on its long-awaited plan to expand its news coverage across the city. The station, located at 251 Dundas St. inside the central branch of the London Public Library, will officially launch June 12 with a new morning radio show and an extensive online news presence. Source
  • Peel police chief 'very concerned' after Sikh officer denied promotion because of race

    Canada News CBC News
    The chief of the Peel Regional Police Service described an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling that an officer was denied a promotion because of his race as "very concerning" — and said the force has since adopted different advancement criteria. Source
  • Detective: Robert Durst's wife told neighbour of beating, threats

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES - The missing wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst once told a neighbour that her husband had beat her and she feared he would kill her, a retired detective testified Tuesday. Source
  • 2 teen girls in custody after missing woman found dead in Manitoba First Nation

    Canada News CTV News
    FORT ALEXANDER, Man. -- Two teenaged girls have been charged in the death of a woman reported missing in Manitoba. RCMP say a 19-year-old woman from Powerview was last seen on Saturday. Police started searching on Sunday after she was reported missing and got a call later that day about a dead woman near a residence in the Sagkeeng First Nation. Source