A Thai court hearing the case of two migrant Myanmar workers accused of killing two British tourists on the southern island of Koh Tao in Thailand last year will deliver the verdict on Christmas Eve. The verdict, which will be decided by a panel of three judges, was previously expected in October.
The trial was due to end last Friday. The judge however granted the defence team's request for an additional two days, 10 and 11 October to allow the defendants to take to the stand.
David Miller, 24, from Jersey, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, were killed in September 2014 on the Thai Island of Koh Tao. Their bodies were found left on a beach.
Zaw Lin, 22 and Wai Phyo, 21, pleaded not guilty to the murders, rape and robbery of Witheridge and Miller. They claim they were forced to confess to the murders and have since withdrawn their confessions.
Following their testimonies, the chief judge told both the defence and the prosecution that they have until 26 October to submit their closing written statements. If found guilty, the pair could face the death penalty, The Telegraph noted.
"The verdict will be on December 24. There is a chance we can still win," chief defence lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat told Reuters. He said inconsistencies in the police investigation which ranged from not sealing off the crime scene properly to the broken chains of custody of evidence could work in favour of the defence.
Investigations mired in controversy from start
The police investigation has been mired in controversy right from the beginning. British Prime Minister David Cameron and his counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha agreed in 2014 to allow the Metropolitan police to conduct an inquiry in an attempt to reassure the victims' families that the judicial process in Thailand was carried out in a fair and transparent way.
However the Metropolitan police has since refused to share its findings. The accused, represented by British lawyers lost a high court challenge in August seeking the release of the report. The Metropolitan police said its publication could endanger cooperation between the two countries. British authorities are barred from providing any assistance to investigators in a potential death penalty case overseas because of the UK opposition to capital punishment, The Telegraph said.
The two men were arrested two weeks after the murder. Thai police had initially focused on possible suspects among the Western tourist community and the locals. After the accused retracted their confessions, the prosecution case hinged mainly on DNA found on Witheridge.
During the hearing, it was highlighted that there was no independent forensic testing formalities for criminal cases in Thailand. The DNA analysis in this case was conducted by the Thai police. The fact that the DNA of the accused did not match either of the DNA samples found on the alleged murder weapon, a garden hoe, did not help the case either.
Accused claim they were tortured during questioning
Wei Phyo told the court on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui that during his interrogation, Thai police had beat him, stripped him naked in a freezing room and flicked his genitalia while he was handcuffed to make him confess. "They also kicked me in the back, punched me and slapped me; threatened to chop off my arms and legs, and throw my body into the sea to feed the fish.
"They also said they would take me into another room and electrocute me. Police told me that as I had no passport I had no rights, and they told me it had happened before, where Burmese migrant workers were burned in a circle of blazing tyres on Koh Tao island. "
His co-accused Zaw Lin told of similar torture during his questioning, claiming that a plastic bag was repeatedly placed over his head while interrogators asked him if he had committed the murders. He also claimed that those questioning him had told him that he would be killed and his body dumped at sea if he did not confess.
Wai Phyo had also admitted that he had found a discarded phone on the beach on the night of the murders and took it home. The security settings of the phone were later confirmed to belong to Miller's phone.
The accused said that after finding out about the murders, his friend smashed up the phone and threw it into the undergrowth behind their hut as they feared that it could be related to "someone involved in the murders."
Both Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo claimed that they were on the beach on the night of the murders but they had gone home after drinking beer and wine and playing guitar with a friend. Coverage of the trial has been difficult as recording or taking notes in courts in Thailand is forbidden.
Victims' families return to Thailand
The Witheridge family travelled to Thailand to attend the hearing while Miller's father and brother were in court for the closing testimonies.
In a statement earlier this week, the Witheridge family said: "Our family have returned to Koh Samui for the closing days of trial. As a family we are here to represent our beautiful girl. Please remember, above all, that Hannah and David are both real people, they were loved by their families and all those that were privileged enough to know them. This story bears no happy ending; their lives were ended brutally that night without sense or reason."