Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Defence appeals to high court for Koh Tao murder duo

The defence lawyer for two Myanmar men sentenced to death in Thailand filed a final appeal to the Thai Supreme Court in Bangkok on Monday, nearly six months after an appeal was rejected by the District Court in Koh Samui, Thailand.

U Aung Myo Thant, a legal adviser from the Myanmar embassy in Thailand, said the defence lawyer submitted a 319-page appeal with Thailand’s highest court, the results of which will be known in six months to a year.

Ko Zaw Linn and Ko Wai Phyo were convicted and sentenced to death in December 2015 for the murder of David Miller and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge on Koh Tao, an island in southern Thailand that is popular with tourists.

In May of last year, the migrant workers’ lawyers lodged a 198-page appeal detailing 21 deficiencies in the prosecution’s case, including the incorrect admission of evidence and the failure of police to identify a potential suspect in CCTV footage who was referred to as the “running man”. Concerns over the veracity of DNA evidence used to convict the pair also plagued the case.

At the time of their conviction, the defendants’ legal team said the verdict represented “an extreme miscarriage of justice” and called for the sentence to be overturned as the prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence.

The District Court appeal was rejected at a hearing on February 23, even though Ko Zaw Linn and Ko Wai Phyo would have a strong chance of a favourable outcome given that the court would have to consider the points made in the defendants’ appeal without any rebuttal from the prosecution.

U Aung Myo Thant said the defence lawyer team has already prepared the next step if the Supreme Court appeal is turned down: a petition letter to the Thai King.

“If the appeal is successful, the death sentence will be overturned,” he said.

U Sein Htay, chair of the Migrant Workers Rights Network, which has been assisting the defence, said the guilty verdict was based on circumstantial evidence and represented “an extreme miscarriage of justice” that should be overturned. The controversial case largely rests on DNA evidence, which has drawn criticism for impartial testing and botched handling.

“The appeal has strongly pointed out concerns over the veracity of DNA evidence used to convict the pair,” he said.

The defence team has worked with Australian DNA expert Jane Taupin to question the prosecutors’ claim that forensic samples lead to a 100 percent match with the defendants. In their ruling, the judges cite the claim as creditable, and added that the methods used to analyse the DNA evidence met international standards.

The defence team is made up of members of the Myanmar and Thai lawyers’ councils, Thai-based migrant affairs groups, and the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand.