BANGKOK (AP) — After three days of testimony in the murder trial of two Burmese migrants accused of killing two young British tourists on a Thai resort island, confusion remains over the disposition of key evidence.
Accounts by Thai media and spectators at the trial said the court on the southern island of Koh Samui on Friday ordered forensic retesting of several items found at the crime scene, including a shovel that is alleged to be the murder weapon.
However, the court failed to clarify what if anything should be done about DNA evidence obtained from the bodies and elsewhere that the defense has said is crucial to its case.
The trial has drawn global attention both for the gruesome murders on the quiet, scenic island of Koh Tao last September and for an investigation that raised questions about police and judicial competency in Thailand.
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Initial press reports said the DNA evidence had been lost, but police have said that was a misunderstanding. They have reportedly told defense lawyers that at least in some cases, the samples were used up by the initial testing. But no clear official explanation has been issued.
“It is not lost,” national police chief Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters in Bangkok before Friday’s session. “I repeat: Nothing is lost.”
Somyot called it a misunderstanding that stemmed from foreign media covering the case who might have poor Thai language skills.
Somyot said the local police investigator, Lt. Col. Somsak Nurod, was vague in his testimony and therefore was misinterpreted. Somsak was no longer in possession of the DNA evidence since he collected it and then sent it to the Forensics Medicine Institute in Bangkok, Somyot said.
“Nothing is missing. It’s a misunderstanding,” the police chief said.
The bodies of backpackers David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found Sept. 15 on the rocky shores of Koh Tao. Autopsies showed that both had suffered severe head wounds and that Witheridge had been raped.
Under intense pressure to catch the murderers, police carried out DNA tests on more than 200 people on Koh Tao before arresting the two Myanmar migrants in early October.
The men — Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22 — have retracted their initial confessions, saying they were extracted through beatings and threats, which police deny. From the start, investigators faced a variety of criticisms, including for failing to secure the crime scene and for releasing names and pictures of suspects who turned out to be innocent.
Prosecutors say the DNA evidence, collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims, links the two men to the killings, and defense lawyers have been requesting that evidence for re-examination since April.
Andy Hall, a British migrant rights activist working with the defense, said that handing over the DNA evidence was crucial to delivering justice.
“Without the samples it undermines the opportunity of the defense to get a fair trial,” Hall said. “More importantly, if it is not provided, or if the forensics material is used up, it would undermine the credibility of the whole investigation.”
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.