"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thailand: Burmese men to appeal conviction in Koh Tao murders of British backpackers

Hannah Witheridge and Davild Miller
Hannah Witheridge and Davild Miller
The disputed DNA evidence that led to the conviction of 2 Burmese men for the British backpacker murders on a Thai holiday island will be at the centre of an appeal against the verdicts.

Lawyers for the 2 men announced on Tuesday that they will file their 200-page appeal on Monday at the courthouse in Koh Samui, accompanied by the mothers of the convicted migrant workers.

The next stage in the legal battle will put the spotlight back on the controversy about the police investigation and prosecutions following the killings of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the holiday island of Koh Tao.

The appeal process by Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, is expected to drag on for years, extending the anguish for the families of the 2 victims.

It will also again focus attention on the contentious roles of British detectives dispatched by David Cameron to observe the investigation by their Thai counterparts in a death penalty case.

"Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo both repeated their sorrow and sympathy for Hannah and David's families, but they insist they had nothing to do with their deaths," Andy Hall, a Bangkok-based British migrant rights activist, told the Telegraph after visiting the men at the high-security death row prison in Bangkok.

"They remain hopeful that that justice will be done and their names will be cleared."

Ms Witheridge was raped and she and Mr Miller were savagely bludgeoned to death with a wooden hoe as they walked back to their hotel rooms late at night along a beach in Sept 2014.

The investigation was dogged by mis-steps amid deepening questions about Thailand's reputation as a safe tourist idyll.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo
Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo: "Nothing to do with their deaths."
With the Thai junta making the case a priority, the two Burmese bar workers were arrested in early October.

The pair initially confessed to the killings but quickly retracted their statements, saying they were tortured.

The 3 judges who handed down the guilty verdicts and death penalties concluded that the prosecution proved its case with forensic evidence that met "international standards" linking the 2 men to the murders.

However, Jane Taupin, a renowned Australian forensic scientist who has been advising the defence on its appeal, told the Telegraph that documents explaining how Thai investigators matched the 2 men's DNA to the victims were not submitted and other paperwork had hand-written changes.

Ms Taupin noted that the highly complex standards for DNA matching based on statistical probability were not provided. And she also pointed out that there were serious questions about the chain of custody of the DNA samples.

There have also been persistent questions about the accreditation of the laboratory that handled the forensic evidence.

"The scientific records were lacking and so it is impossible to determine whether they meet international standards," Ms Taupin said. "I certainly do not see that the court could conclude that the forensic evidence met those international standards."

Pornthip Rojanasunand, Thailand's best-known forensic scientist, testified for the defence that the crime scene was not protected and the collection of evidence "contradicted the principles of forensic science".

She also told the court that her own laboratory's testing of the hoe that was the murder weapon recovered DNA samples, but none that matched the accused men.

The prosecution said that DNA taken from the accused men matched samples recovered from the body of Miss Witheridge.

The convictions apparently split the families of the victims. Mr Miller's parents and brother issued a powerful statement saying that justice had been done with the Christmas Day verdicts after sitting through much of the trial.

Ms Witheridge's family have not made a formal comment. But her sister Laura later issued a blistering attack on the Thai police for its "bungled" investigation into the killings.

She claimed that she had received death threats, said that her family was offered money to keep quiet after the murders and accused the Thai authorities of "covering-up" the killings of other Western tourists on Koh Tao.

Source: telegraph.co.uk, May 17, 2016

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