Thai King commutes death sentence for Hannah Witheridge killers
PUBLISHED: 16:39 15 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:30 16 August 2020
Two migrant workers from Myanmar convicted over the 2014 killing of Hannah Witheridge on a Thai holiday island have had their death sentences reduced to life imprisonment.
Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were among many convicts in Thai prisons whose sentences were reduced under a clemency decree issued by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to mark his 68th birthday on July 28, their lawyer, Nadthasiri Bergman, confirmed.
The decree, which appeared to cover thousands of prisoners, took effect on Friday with its publication in the Royal Gazette.
The two denied killing 24-year-old David Miller, from Jersey, and raping and killing 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge, from Hemsby, whose battered bodies were found on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, a popular diving destination.
Miss Witheridge was a student at the University of Essex in Colchester.
The high-profile case caused extensive controversy because of allegations that police mishandled evidence and beat the suspects into making confessions.
There were suspicions they were scapegoats for a crime that police were under pressure to solve because it could adversely effect Thailand’s lucrative tourist industry.
A well-known Thai forensics expert testified that DNA evidence central to the prosecution case did not link them to the scene, and Human Rights Watch called the guilty verdict “profoundly disturbing”.
The Supreme Court in August last year upheld their murder convictions and sentences. It dismissed allegations of physical mistreatment and mishandling of forensic evidence, saying the work was handled by respectable institutions and it found no proof of torture.
The death penalty is rarely carried out in Thailand.
Last year, the mothers of the two workers, May Thein and Phyu Shwe, said they hoped the king would grant their plea for clemency and reduce the punishment to life imprisonment.
They submitted an official petition for clemency on Thursday (October 24) at Bang Kwang prison on the outskirts of Bangkok, where the two men are being held.
“We believe our sons are innocent,” said May Thein, mother of Wai Phyo. “Many people believe the same thing as us.”
Miss Witheridge and Mr Miller had arrived in Thailand separately and met at the hotel where they were both staying.
Their killers, who were both 22 at the time, were employed as service workers on the island.
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