Thai Court upholds death for 2 Burmese in British murders

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of two Myanmar migrants sentenced to death for the murder of two British backpackers on a resort island in 2014.

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Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin have denied killing David Miller and raping and killing Hannah Witheridge. Their battered bodies were found on the morning of Sept. 15, 2014, on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.

Lawyers for the two convicted men claimed 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, had come 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 is diving locations.

The Thai lawyer for the defendants contended that they were tortured into making confessions, and that they were provided with inadequate translators when talking to police.

The trial also saw a well-known Thai forensics expert testify that the DNA evidence that was a major element of the prosecution's case did not link the defendants to the scene. The expert also alleged that police had failed to properly control the crime scene and mishandled the DNA evidence.

The court rejected the defense 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 skepticism 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 — played up by British tabloids — continue to contribute to unease about the case.