Court orders retesting of evidence in Koh Tao murder case

11 July 2015
Court orders retesting of evidence in Koh Tao murder case
Uncertainty surrounds the evidence collected by police at the murder scene on Koh Tao. Photo:Jonathan Thiel/Flickr

The Samui Provincial Court has ordered remaining forensic evidence in the Koh Tao tourist murders case to be sent for re-examination at the Thai Justice Ministry's Central Institute of Forensic Science in line with a defence request, according to local Thai media reports on July 10. 
The court, in Surat Thani, yesterday ordered public prosecutors to work with investigators to send all remaining forensic evidence found at the crime scene, including a shovel, for forensic retesting. 
The news came after what appeared to be a misunderstanding in which it was said that some crucial DNA evidence would not be retested.
Myanmar migrant workers Ko Zaw Lin and Ko Win Zaw Htun are on trial for the murder of 24-year-old David Miller and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on Koh Tao island in September. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Thai police and prosecutors say DNA evidence points towards the two 22-year-old suspects, but the defence claims the men have been scapegoated by an under pressure police force who bungled their investigation and coerced confessions from the pair.
Much of the defence’s case revolves around a bid to retest key forensic evidence, including DNA on cigarettes and a condom found near the crime scene as well as DNA swabs taken from the victims' bodies.
Some confusion surrounded the condition and state of the evidence. On Thursday, the head of police on the nearby island of Koh Pha Ngan told the defence team outside the courtroom on Koh Samui that “the DNA on the cigarettes is all finished." 
“The DNA samples taken from the bodies are not my responsibility. They are in Bangkok,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Somsak Nurod added.
The British pair’s bludgeoned bodies were found on Koh Tao’s main beach just as Thailand's vital tourism industry was beginning to recover from months of violent street protests that culminated in a May 2014 military coup.
The grim case shone a light on Thailand's many underpaid and often exploited Myanmar migrants who work in the lucrative tourist sector, as well as the country's judicial system, which many Thais complain is weighted in favour of the wealthy or influential.
The opening day of the trial on Wednesday saw the defence attack the police for failing to cordon off the crime scene quick enough. Police deny mishandling their investigation and say their evidence will show the two Myanmar nationals are guilty.
During Thursday afternoon the court heard testimony detailing how the suspected murder weapon was removed and then returned to the crime scene.
The testimony came from a Myanmar migrant worker called O who worked at a resort closest to the crime scene. The owner of the resort was briefly named by police as a potential suspect in the killings.
Police believe a garden hoe which came from the resort and was found leaning against a tree near the crime scene, was used to bludgeon both victims.
After arriving at the crime scene around 5.40am O admitted removing the hoe from next to the tree and taking it back to a vegetable garden inside the resort where he worked.
Around half an hour later he said he was approached by the resort’s boss and a policeman who told him to put on a pair of gloves and return it to the scene, which he did.
Relatives of Witheridge and Miller have travelled to Koh Samui for the trial, which is expected to take place over 18 staggered days between now and September with a verdict due in October.
The victims' families have also previously said they have confidence in the case, after British investigators reported back to them following a visit to Thailand late last year.
Additional reporting by AFP