Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thailand backpacker murders: Burmese workers face death penalty over Hannah Witheridge and David Miller killings

Two Burmese workers have been convicted of the murder of two British backpackers in Thailand.

Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, and 24-year-old David Miller, from Jersey, were killed by Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, a judge ruled.

The case had been mired in criticism over the judicial process, with international human rights observers criticising the Thai authorities handling of the case.

But sentencing on Wednesday, the judge ruled the DNA evidence used to connect the two men, both 22 years old, to the brutal rape and double murder was “up to international standard”.

Mr Miller’s brother Michael, standing alongside parents Ian and Sue, said the court had reached the “correct decision”. Ms Witheridge’s family did not attend the final trial, although they had visited Thailand in order to witness the process.

"We believe the result today represents justice for David and Hannah," Michael Miller said outside court. “We came to realise that the police investigation and the forensic work performed was not the so-called shambles it was made out to be.”

The bodies of Ms Witheridge, who was raped before being killed, and Mr Miller, who died after being struck from behind by an object and then drowned in the sea, were found on a beach on the island of Koh Tao on 15 September last year.

In the wake of the killings, amid international media attention, Thai authorities scrambled to make an arrest.

DNA evidence collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims, linked Lin and Phyo to the scene, prosecutors argued. The weight of the case rested on sperm collected from Ms Witheridge’s body, which was alleged to link the men to the attack, but an independent assessment was blocked after police admitting destroying the evidence.

However, defence teams claimed the alleged murder weapon, a garden hoe, did not contain any DNA that matched either defendant.

While both men initially admitted to killing the pair, claiming their were motivated by sexual jealousy after seeing them together, they later retratcted their statements claimging they had been obtained under pressure.

“There are credible allegations that these two young men were tortured into ‘confessing,’ and we know that they have been subjected to numerous unfair trial practices,” Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at international human rights charity Reprieve, told the Guardian.

“No one would disagree that those responsible for this crime need to be held to account. But it is hard to see how a trial as flawed and unfair as this one can provide any confidence that justice has been served.”

It is believed the two men’s defence teams will appeal the death penalty, although this could take several months.
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