Thailand‘s top court upheld death sentences for two Myanmar migrant workers in a final appeal against their convictions for murdering two British backpackers on a holiday island in a case tainted by allegations of mismanagement.
Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin denied killing David Miller and raping and killing Hannah Witheridge. Their battered bodies were found on the morning of September 15, 2014, on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.
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The men displayed no emotion on Thursday as they listened intently to a translator while the verdict was read at a court in the province of Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok, the capital.
“The Supreme Court upholds the verdict from the first court and the appeal court,” a judge told the pair.
The men’s legal team said it would seek a royal pardon within 60 days, as provided in Thai law.
Lawyers for the two convicted men said the evidence in the case was mishandled and they made confessions under duress that they later retracted, raising questions about police competence and the judicial system in Thailand.
Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, and Miller, 24, from Jersey, came to Thailand separately and met at the hotel where both were staying.
The two Myanmar men, both 22 at the time, were employed as service workers on the island, which is famous for its diving locations.
The Thai lawyer for the defendants contended they were tortured into making confessions and were provided with inadequate translators when talking to police.
The trial also saw a well-known Thai forensics expert testify that DNA evidence that was a major element of the prosecution’s case did not link the defendants to the scene.
The expert also alleged police failed to properly control the crime scene and mishandled the DNA evidence.
The court rejected the defence arguments and in December 2015 convicted both defendants of murder and sentenced them to death.
Human Rights Watch at the time 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.
The killings and scepticism that Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin were the actual perpetrators cast a shadow on Koh Tao’s reputation.
A series of deaths there of other foreign tourists continue to contribute to unease about the case.
“The death sentence against the two accused and their conviction should be reversed and quashed,” Andy Hall, an adviser to the men’s legal team, said in a statement to media.
“DNA and forensics evidence relied on to convict Zaw Law and Wai Phyo and sentence them to death in the Koh Tao murder case was fundamentally flawed and unreliable in terms of international standards.”
Thai courts have rejected accusations of torture and ruled that DNA evidence linked the workers to the crime.