KOH SAMUI – The Koh Tao Police Officer in charge of the investigation into the brutal killing of two Britons on Koh Tao appeared for the first time in court Wednesday to be questioned by a lawyer for the two Myanmar migrants facing murder charges.
The testimony of Jakkrapan Kaewkhao, an officer at Koh Tao police station who was called as the first witness for the prosecution, capped the first day of the closely watched trial at the Koh Samui Provincial Court in Surat Thani province.
Prosecutors pressed several charges including murder and rape against Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo over the deaths of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge on Koh Tao on Sept 15.
The two suspects have been detained at a prison on neighboring Koh Samui since October.
Zaw Lin, 22, and Wai Phyo, 21, insisted on their innocence and denied that they had committed the crimes.
“God will know that we are not the murderers and we hope to get freedom and justice,” said Zaw Lin in a letter written in the Myanmar language.
Pol Lt Jakkrapan said he saw Miller’s body partially immersed in the ebbing sea along Sai Ree beach and decided to move him to higher ground and walked around to check the vicinity while leaving his subordinate to look after the corpse.
Some five meters away behind some rocks lay the body of Witheridge with evidence showing she was raped, he told the three-member judge panel.
Pol Lt Jakkrapan was cross-examined by a team of defense lawyers led by Nakhon Chompuchat.
Mr Nakhon said later that he had questioned the police report in the court.
“The police officer who made the report and was in charge of the case answered the defense lawyers. The police report called into question its credibility as his statement was not the opinion of experts and doctors,” he said.
The two suspects had admitted to the killing of the two British holidaymakers to police but later retracted their confessions, saying they were tortured.
Attorneys for Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, said there appeared to be discrepancies between DNA evidence held by Thai police and DNA samples tested by British police.
Andy Hall, a migrant activist working with the defense team, said the accused had not been given access to important evidence.
After the trial started, Mr Hall told AFP the judge will decide whether the defense can independently test the controversial forensic evidence against their clients on Thursday.
“We feel confident he will allow it,” he said of tests the defense have been demanding for months in order for a “fair trial”.
Rights groups say the trial is a test case for Thailand’s treatment of the 2.5 million migrant laborers, many from poor neighboring countries, on which it relies.
Others fear the pair are being used as scapegoats and will not receive a fair trial in a country where the poor and disenfranchised are rarely afforded justice.
Members of the families of Miller and Witheridge attended the courtroom, along with an official of the Foreign Commonwealth Office from the United Kingdom.
BY ACHARA ASHACHAYAGACHAT AND SUPAPHONG CHAOLAN – Bangkok Post