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Koh Tao Killers of British Backpackers Get Death Sentences Commuted

Myanmar Koh Tao Killers

Two Burmese migrant workers railroaded for the murders of two British backpackers on Koh Tao in 2014 had their death sentenced commuted by royal pardon on Friday.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, now 27, were among the 240,000 recipients of pardons by HM the King published in the Royal Gazette, commuting their death sentences to life in prison for the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and the murder of David Miller, 24.

The two men were convicted and sentenced over Christmas in 2015, a ruling upheld by the Appeal Court in 2017 and Supreme Court in August 2019.

The wildly controversial convictions were widely seen as frame jobs, with courts blindly dismissing gaping holes in prosecutors cases and flawed evidence. Both men claimed they were tortured to give confessions, large chunks of the defense case were thrown out, that the state never considered other suspects and that vital DNA evidence was lost.

The pair’s legal team has, since losing their final apppel last year, sought to obtain the King’s mercy.

“In the appeal letter, we requested that the death sentence be commuted, as the two are young and supporting their widowed mothers,” lawyer U Aung Myo Thant, a legal adviser to the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand, said at the time.

Lead attorney Nakhon Chompuchat said Friday that the pair will not be set free now, but could have their sentences further reduced due to good behavior.

The bodies of Witheridge and Miller were found on Koh Tao’s Sai Ree Beach in September 2014. The two men had been playing music nearby and Witheridge’s phone was found in one of the defendants’ room. Little other evidence connected the pair to the murder other than DNA fragments found on Witheridge’s body that defense attorneys argued were planted.