Koh Tao Murder Convicts Sentenced to Die by Supreme Court

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo at the Supreme Court on Aug. 29.

BANGKOK — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence for two Burmese men convicted of murdering two British tourists on a popular island in 2014.

After a lengthy reading of its 60-page verdict, the court affirmed rulings by two lower courts that found Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo guilty of killing David Miller and Hannah Witheridge on Koh Tao in September 2014. The two men were also convicted of raping Witheridge.

The verdict was read at a court in Nonthaburi province, where Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo are incarcerated. 

Defense attorney Nakhon Chomphuchart said he will file a clemency appeal to His Majesty the King and ask him to suspend the death sentence. Under Thai laws, such appeals must be made to the monarch within 60 days of a verdict. 

Today’s ruling marked the end of a legal battle that pitted police authorities against mostly online skeptics who accuse the investigators of using sketchy evidence and framing the two suspects as “scapegoats.”

In the original verdict delivered in 2015, the court convicted Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 26, largely on the basis of DNA traces police said were recovered from the crime scene and Witheridge’s body.

Although no other physical evidence or testimony directly linked the pair to the crime, the court noted the two men came into possession of a mobile phone that belonged to one of the victims. Miller was 24 at the time of his death; Witheridge was 23.

Under the Thai legal system, an appeal to a higher court does not constitute a new trial, but rather re-examination and re-interpretation of evidence and testimonies submitted to the lower court.

In a statement released on Wednesday night, the defense team said techniques used by police to collect DNA and other forensic evidence did not meet international standards.

“DNA & forensics evidence relied on to convict Zaw Law [sic] and Wai Phyo, and sentence them to death in Koh Tao murder case fundamentally flawed & unreliable in terms of international standards,” attorney Nakhon said in the online statement.

Police have repeatedly maintained the DNA was processed in accordance with usual protocols.

It is unclear whether the two convicts will actually face execution. Thailand has rarely carried out death sentences in recent decades.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were not eligible to file an appeal to His Majesty the King. 

Related stories:

Koh Tao Murders: Top Forensic Scientist to Testify for Defense

Koh Tao Murders: Court Says DNA Trumps Other Flaws in Case

Injustice Echos From All Sides Two Years After Koh Tao Murders