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Victims of murder and rape: Hannah Witheridge and David Miller

Death Sentences for Myanmar Pair in Koh Tao Murders Case

Thursday, December 24, 2015
Bangkok: Two young men from Myanmar have been found guilty and sentenced to death over the murders two British backpackers on an idyllic island, in a case that raised questions about Thailand's system of justice and treatment of migrant workers.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, strenuously denied murdering David Miller, 24, and raping and murdering Hannah Witheridge, 23, on Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand last year.

The pair are expected to appeal the verdict.

The brutality of the murders on the 2000-hectare island popular with divers and partygoers severely damaged Thailand's tourist industry.

Witheridge, from eastern England and her friend David Miller from the Channel Islands were bludgeoned to death with a rusty hoe after attending a late-night beach party on September 14, 2014.

As dawn broke Witheridge was found with her face smashed in, her skirt wrenched up and showing signs of rape.

Miller was four metres away, face up, with a blow to the head and water in his lungs.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who were working on the island, were arrested after weeks of intense pressure on police from Thailand's military rulers, the media and diplomats to solve a crime which shocked the Thai public.

Police said the pair had confessed to the killings but both men later retracted their statements, saying they were tortured.

Allegations of police incompetence and evidence mishandling dominated a 21-day trial on the nearby tourist island of Samui which ended in October.

Rights groups said the case reflected a trend of low-paid migrant workers being blamed for crimes in Thailand, where the justice system is seen as being riddled with corruption.

One senior Thai police officer told journalists "no Thai could possibly commit such a crime".

Prosecutors told a panel of three trial judges that DNA traces found on Witheridge's body as well as the suspect's being in possession of Miller's mobile phone and sunglasses proved the guilt of the accused.

But defence lawyers disputed the forensic evidence, saying DNA on the murder weapon did not match either of the accused and that the evidence-gathering techniques did not meet accepted international standards.

Prominent Thai forensic expert Porntip Rojanasunan criticised the collection of evidence, testifying that it "contradicted the principles of forensic science".

Authorities said initially that Witheridge was raped, then said she wasn't, before finally saying she was raped twice.

The case was mired in controversy.

Thailand's military ruler Prayuth Chan-ocha caused uproar when he commented on the killings, saying only ugly women were safe wearing bikinis in Thailand.

Police had Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun re-enact their alleged crime on the beach, with a television reporter roped in to play the parts of the victims.

As police linked arms to keep onlookers away, the men wielded a dustbin to supposedly demonstrate how they killed the tourists.

"The prosecution case was marked by an absence of significant evidence needed to prove the guilt of the accused for the crimes they are charged with," defence lawyers said on the eve of the verdict.

The lawyers said the accused men had no lawyers present when they were interrogated, they were not read their rights and DNA samples were taken from them involuntarily.

The prosecution did not present photographs of the crime scene, autopsy or DNA analysis processes and there was a lack of evidence on forensic laboratory procedures, they said.

Lawyers questioned why there was no evidence of forensic tests on Witheridge's clothes, CCTV footage provided by the prosecution appeared to be incomplete and no fingerprint or footprint evidence was presented as part of the prosecution case.

A report by British detectives who travelled to Thailand to review the evidence has not been made public.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


I think I should moderate myself before the Ed does it.

This does sound like a huge miscarriage of justice for these two lads. Let's hope their appeal can bring some truth and answers to the questions raised in the article.

Posted by Discover Thainess on December 24, 2015 12:18

Editor Comment:

It's a contentious case that has aroused strong passions. It appears the prosecution case was stronger than the defence thought it would be, or at least more persuasive. Only the accused know for sure.


I sincerely hope a higher authority steps in a prevents this travesty taking place. IU hope there is courage from world leaders to stand up and say, to Thailand, ENOUGH is ENOUGH. Those that commit this "crime," finding these two guilty, should be brought up on charges, by the UN, or whoever else can find the decency to see justice done.

Posted by Laurie Howells on December 24, 2015 13:34

Editor Comment:

It never ceases to amaze me how so many people can be so certain about ''justice'' or ''injustice'' without real knowledge.


A few months ago I clicked a link that had no warning of its graphic content. All I want to say is that this was a really horrible crime.

Posted by Anonymous on December 24, 2015 13:39


Ed, I'm not interest in whatever you think, but even you know that there isn't enough evidence against these two, however there is enough evidence against the prosecutions case, even Thailand's leading forensics department rejects the police evidence.

Posted by Laurie Howells on December 24, 2015 13:57

Editor Comment:

Fingerprints, DNA are fairly incriminating Laurie, but then we'll leave judgements to others who have all the information required to make them.


Is anybody really surprised at this verdict? The whole case has been a shambles. Thai face saving must come before justice. If not guilty, it means a brutal killer is still free to kill again.

Posted by Arun Muruga on December 24, 2015 14:22

Editor Comment:

The defence team has done a powerful job on public perceptions, AM, but the judges appear to have been more difficult to persuade. And they are the ones who needed persuading. As you know, conspiracy theorists never let the facts stand in the way or a good theory.


Only those who were involved in this terrible crime know what happened.

However, having read, thought on and digested the facts of the case (in particular the well documented 'bungled' investigation) along with knowing how avoidance of 'loosing face' is probably at the top of the list of priorities for the Thai police force, one can assume that injustice may have occured here.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.....guess's probably a duck.

Thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims.

Posted by Michael on December 24, 2015 15:09

Editor Comment:

The Thai justice system doesn't have many fans.The British investigation team is bound to speak out at some point if their conclusions were at odds with the judgement.


what a horrific decision...

Posted by sky on December 24, 2015 16:02


A very complicated case..... Personally I am sad with the verdict.
But I might be wrong and the dilemma is that even in case the police evidence was correct and the boys are guilty, not many people trust in it based on experience and history!
The issue many people have is the fact that certain people get convicted even when there is reasonable doubt. On the other hand people get away with 100% proven serious crimes....A Ferrari driver and some politicans come to my mind

Posted by Mr. K on December 24, 2015 16:45

Editor Comment:

Two tragic, needless deaths and many important issues raised in the aftermath . . .


I don't like death penalty. I really hate it and hope the two will not be killed by the state.

But I would give the judges the benefit of doubt, that they after seeing and hearing all the evidence in court came to a clear guilty verdict. Procedure failures can be healed in Thailand and do not make evidence inadmissible like in the US, where lawyers like to do public litigation for their cases.

Only one does not trust the police does not mean these two are innocent. Think of the two murdered people. The defence did not a solid job on the evidence. They were only good at the side shows. That is not enough.

What about notorious commenter turned wife killer Kata beach bum. Why did nobody jump for his defence? Because?

BTW this guy will be in my top 10 moments on reading Phuketwan...

Posted by Lena on December 24, 2015 23:12


One senior Thai police officer told journalists "no Thai could possibly commit such a crime".
Classic.. So all rapes and murders in Thailand are committed by foreigners?? Really? So all the Rohingya graves and stories of rape and torture are the product of crimes by foreigners???
Sad but no 'retribution' legal or otherwise will bring back the the dead.

Posted by david on December 25, 2015 09:56

Editor Comment:

The police officer was noting that the Koh Tao murders were especially horrific, david. What he said about them wasn't intended to be applied to other crimes.


Many people seems to doubt that these guys are guilty, if they arent what a pity way to solve it for the families... say no more. but how could suck a horrific crime be done by Thais?

Posted by Frog on December 25, 2015 12:25

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