8 months on, Koh Tao murder suspects ‘still waiting’ on evidence review

01 June 2015
8 months on, Koh Tao murder suspects ‘still waiting’ on evidence review
Thai police officers look on as two Myanmar migrant workers - suspects in the killing of two British tourists - participate in a crime re-enactment on the beach of Koh Tao island in Surat Thani province, southern Thailand, 03 October 2014.  Photo: EP

Lawyers for two Myanmar nationals accused of murdering a pair of British holidaymakers in Thailand said today they have “deep concerns” that they will be unable to independently review forensic evidence before the trial starts.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun have pleaded not guilty to the murder of 24-year-old David Miller and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai island of Koh Tao in September.
The pair’s defence team have long voiced concerns over the quality of the Thai police investigation, claiming the crime scene was contaminated and that their clients were tortured into confessing.
In April, a court on the nearby island of Koh Samui approved the defence’s request to independently analyse the evidence against their clients, including DNA and physical evidence at the crime scene such as bloodstains and a shirt.
But the lead lawyer on the defence side said his team had been told by the court that they would only find out whether they can access the evidence on July 8 — the first day of the trial.
“The defence lawyers urgently need both crucial information gained from the re-examination of forensics evidence in this case and also adequate time to consider this information prior to the trial beginning. I am now deeply concerned at this developing situation,” Nakhon Chomphuchat said in a statement released today.
“Forensic evidence is central to this case. Without re-examination of this evidence... the ability of the two defendants to defend themselves against the serious crimes they are charged (with) will be seriously impeded,” he added.
The court was unreachable over the weekend.
The defendants, both aged 22, confessed to the crimes after their arrest in October, but later retracted the admission of guilt, alleging it had been extracted under duress.
Rights groups have accused Thai authorities of using the men as scapegoats.
However, both police and prosecutors have defended their investigation and insist that the forensic evidence is solid.
The victims’ families have also said they have seen strong evidence against the suspects and expressed confidence in the case after British detectives travelled to Thailand to observe the investigation.
Miller and Witheridge’s corpses were discovered on a Koh Tao beach on September 15.
Police said both had been bludgeoned to death, while Witheridge’s body showed signs of sexual abuse.
The accused, who have been in custody on Koh Samui since October, face several charges including murder, rape and robbery.
The murders further damaged Thailand’s image as a tourist haven after months of political protests followed by last May’s army coup.