By Teeranai Charuvastra
SAMUI — The court today found two Myanmar workers guilty of killing two British backpackers in southern Thailand more than a year ago.
The court on Samui island this morning ruled that there is sufficient evidence to implicate the two defendants, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, in the double murder of British nationals David Miller and Hannah Witheridge in September 2014. Although there were no direct witnesses, the DNA found on the defendants was enough, according to the court.
The case which has since attracted intense media coverage and public scrutiny.
Miller, 24, and Witheridge, 23, were found dead on Sai Ree Beach on Koh Tao in the early morning of Sep. 15, 2014. Two weeks after the murders, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were arrested and identified as the killers. The pair were also accused of raping Witheridge.
Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo have been held at a prison on Samui island since their arrests. They have both been sentenced to death for the double murder and also for the rape of Witheridge. Additionally Wai Phyo, 22, was charged with entering the kingdom illegally and the theft of Miller's phone.
The two migrant workers, who are both 22, initially confessed to the crimes after going through police interrogation without any lawyers or a qualified interpreter. The two men later retracted their confession once they received pro-bono legal assistance from the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
The defendants’ lawyers have been urging the court to dismiss the charges against the two men, arguing that forensic evidence fails to link the the defendants to the crime scene. But their argument today proved insufficient to sway the court.
Activist Andy Hall, who worked with the defense lawyers, said they plan to appeal the guilty verdict. Defense lawyer, Nakon Chompuchart, said he will appeal at the Supreme Court.
The family of Miller were in attendance at the court today. Also present were parents of the two defendants.
After the verdict had been read out, Michael Miller, older brother of David Miller read out a statement to the press. In the statement, made on behalf of his family, Micheal Miller said that the family believed that the verdict was "correct". He went on to say that the family had kept an open-mind throughout the trial and listened to the evidence.
Micheal Miller said that the trial is not a "shambles" as some people had allegedly claimed on social media. The family also added that they belived that the two defendants had shown no remorse for their actions throughout the trial. The Miller family declined to answer any questions from the media outside the court.
Asked to comment on the Miller family statement, Nakhon, the defense lawyer, said that his two clients restrained themselves from showing any emotion in the court room, following his advice to "be strong for their moms."
The parents of the two Myanmar men found guilty of the double murder, also present at the court in Samui, were too anguished to speak to the press today. The mothers of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo could be seen weeping outside the court.
Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo are expected to be moved to either Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat provincial prisons. It is likely to be betweeen six months and one year before knowing whether their appeal will be accepted or not.
Note: This is a developing story. More updates will be published.
By Teeranai Charuvastra