SURAT THANI – Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin the two migrant workers from Myanmar pleaded innocent Monday to charges that they killed two British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge on the Thai resort island of Koh Tao.
Nakorn Chompoochart, the lawyer for the two men, said they made their pleas in a court on nearby Koh Samui island.
The bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found Sept. 15 on a beach on Koh Tao, a popular island in southern Thailand. Autopsies showed both had suffered severe head wounds and that Witheridge had been raped.
Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 21, were indicted Thursday on several charges related to the slayings.
They say confessions that they have since retracted were extracted through beatings and threats, which police deny. The trial’s first hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25.
Investigating police faced a variety of criticism, starting with their failure to secure the crime scene and releasing several names and pictures of suspects who turned out to be innocent. After Britain’s Foreign Office expressed concern to Thai authorities about the way the investigation was conducted, British police were allowed to observe the case assembled by their Thai counterparts.
However, on Friday the families of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge said evidence against Myanmar migrants accused of the crime is convincing, in statements supportive of a much-criticized police investigation
In statements released through Britain’s Foreign Office, the victims’ families said they had seen strong evidence against the suspects and expressed confidence in the case.
“There is a great deal of detail and vast areas of investigative work which has been shared with us,” Witheridge’s family said in a statement.
“We would like to stress that as a family we are confident in the work that has been carried out into these atrocious crimes.”
British detectives traveled to Thailand to review the police investigation into the murders after widespread criticism of blunders such as allowing reporters to trample over the crime scene.
Rights groups also raised concerns over the case after the two suspects retracted confessions they had made to the crime, and said they had been tortured.
On Friday the family of Miller criticized “increasing sensationalism of this story” and said that “speculation” should be suspended until all evidence is made public.
“The support for the Myanmar suspects has been strong and vocal, but please do not jump to conclusions until you have considered the evidence from both sides in full,” Miller’s family said.
“From what we have seen, the suspects have a difficult case to answer. The evidence against them appears to be powerful and convincing.”
The suspects’ families and legal team say they are innocent and have been made scapegoats of a crime by police keen to find a quick resolution.
The events have further damaged Thailand’s image as a tourist haven after months of political protests led to an army coup in May and the imposition of martial law