Two migrants from Myanmar are facing the death penalty in Thailand after being found guilty of murder, rape and conspiring to hide the crime.
The bodies of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were discovered on a beach on Thailand's Koh Tao island on Sept. 15, 2014, the Daily Mail reported. Migrants from Myanmar, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, were arrested weeks later.
The yearlong investigation of the murders was filled with controversy. There were several disputes over DNA analysis, and some claimed Thai police mishandled the investigation after coming under pressure to make an arrest.
In court, Lin and Phyo said they were tortured to confess that the allegations against them were true. They claimed they had plastic bags placed over their heads so they couldn’t breathe, were beaten and were threatened to be killed and have their bodies dumped in the ocean, according to reports.
Human rights groups and representatives of the Myanmar government insisted that the men were telling the truth. Still, they were found guilty of raping Witheridge, beating her to death and killing Miller, leaving him to drown at sea. Their mothers cried in the courtroom after the judge announced they would be sentenced to death.
Miller’s family attended the court hearing and spoke after the judges delivered their verdicts. On the steps of the court, Miller’s brother Michael said:
“We believe the result today was justice for David and Hannah. David always stood up for justice and justice is what was delivered today. We didn't know what to believe. It was easy to conclude they might be scapegoats. We heard the evidence and a group of activists has promoted their cause to the media. They had seven top lawyers and ultimately they obtained the best possible representation in court.
"We have attended the trial and gained respect for the court. We came to realize the police investigation was not the shambles it was made out to be. It is our opinion that the evidence against Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo is absolutely overwhelming.
"They have shown no remorse during the trial. Initially they confessed and then recanted in an attempt to avoid justice. We believe the correct verdict has been reached and we would like to thank those who have supported us over the last year. Hopefully campaigners who have followed this will accept the decision of the court.”
Lin and Phyo still have the right to appeal, but if they lose they will face mandatory execution. The men’s defense team said they were shocked by the verdict, and would be appealing.
“The case against the two defendants was unjustified to begin with,” said leading defense lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat. “The investigation and charges were conducted improperly, without any lawyers or witnesses present. There was also no translator for the defendants -- and the gathering of DNA samples was done unwillingly.”
The Witheridge family issued the following statement:
“Hannah was a beautiful, intelligent, loving young woman who poured joy into the lives of all who knew her. She was selfless and caring and made each and every day that little bit more wonderful.”