Two 22-year-old Burmese men have been accused of murdering David Miller, 24, and raping and killing Hannah Witheridge, 23, on a beach on the southern island in September 2014. The suspects, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, are facing the death penalty in a trial taking place over 18 staggered days in a court on the neighboring island of Samui. The first session concluded on 10 July.
Yesterdayʼs court hearing, which lasted for nearly 12 hours, saw only one witness: an investigative police officer chosen by the prosecution to present dozens of video clips culled from the footage of 300 CCTV cameras installed in the vicinity of the crime. The officer, Pol Col Cherdpong Chiewpreecha, said that only 100 of those cameras were operational, and 22 of them showed the movements of Ms Witheridge and Mr Miller on their final night.
Pol Col Cherdpong showed the court dozens of clips from the footage, which he said allowed police to construct the following timeline of events:
At around 10pm, Mr Miller and Ms Witheridge – who arrived on the island separately but were staying at the same hotel – join friends at Chopper Bar in the northern part of Sairee Beach to watch a football match.
Ms Witheridge and three other British friends, named Emma, Matthew, and Tom, left Chopper Bar at around midnight and headed south towards AC Bar, which they entered at around 12:30am.
According to Pol Col Cherdpong, Ms Witheridge was not confronted, harassed, interrupted, or trailed by any suspicious individuals while she and the others walked to AC Bar. “I studied hundreds of hours of footage to make sure of that, Your Honor,” he said, citing this as evidence that the murder was not premeditated.
At around the same time that Ms Witheridge and the others entered AC Bar, Mr Miller and his friend, Christopher, are seen leaving Chopper Bar and heading south towards AC Bar.
The pair later separates, with Christopher stopping at a convenience store.
Mr Miller is then seen walking past AC Bar “and showing no intention to enter,” Pol Col Cherdpong told the court. Mr Miller walks towards his hotel, where he presumably stays for around 20 minutes.
Mr Miller is then seen walking back towards Chopper Bar in a visibly drunken state, according to Pol Col Cherdpong. Mr Miller can be seen punching the air with his right arm.
Mr Miller arrives at Chopper Bar around 1:40am to find it closed for the night. He then walks east into an alley, stopping to buy a pair of sunglasses at a convenience store, which he hangs on his shirt.
CCTV footage shows Mr Miller turning back towards AC Bar again, which had a small crowd of foreign tourists gathered outside its entrance. Pol Col Cherdpong said he believes Mr Miller was looking for a place to drink and was told by tourists that AC Bar is open late. He is seen entering the bar at around 2am.
There was no more footage of Mr Miller and Ms Witheridge, who police believe left AC Bar through a back exit onto the beach. AC Bar is one of the few bars that opens directly onto the beach, according to Pol Col Cherdpong. The officer said footage obtained from the entrance of the bar did not show any sign of Mr Miller and MsWitheridge.
Pol Col Cherdpong did not comment further on the fate of the three friends seen with Ms Witheridge. He said that Mr Miller’s friend Christopher was briefly detained after the murder, but later released without charges.
The investigative officer also showed the judges dozens of video clips allegedly reconstructing the movement of the two suspects and a third person, who were seen buying beer, cigarettes, and heading towards Sairee Beach on a motorcycle with a guitar on the night of the murder, 15 September 2014.
The suspects, who retracted confessions initially obtained by police without the presence of a lawyer, have pleaded not guilty. In court yesterday, the pair, who wore shackles around their ankles, identified themselves as two of the three persons seen at the convenience store, but maintained that they have no connection to the rape or murder.
Pol Col Cherdpong also showed the court footage of a small “Asian man” who was seen running back and forth several times between 3am and 5 am on the night of the crime. According to the officer, the man was traveling between the crime scene on the southern part of the beach and a Burmese community nearby.
The defendants' lawyers told Khaosod English that Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo both said they were not the man seen running in the CCTV footage presented to the court.
The suspects’ mothers were present in court yesterday for the first time, and will stay on the island until a verdict is reached in early October. The two women successfully raised money to fund their travel from Myanmar’s Rahkine state through the help of a local NGO and donations from Burmese politicians.
Wai Phyo’s mother, whose husband recently passed away, wailed and embraced her son when she arrived in the courtroom yesterday morning.
She later told Khaosod English that her son told her “not to worry,” and assured her that he would be set free.
Yesterdayʼs court session was also attended by a representative for Mr Miller and Ms Witheridge’s families, who attended the first court session earlier this month, several expats who have organised local support for the defendants, an official from Myanmar’s Embassy in Thailand, the secretary of the Burmese NGO that helped Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin’s mothers travel to Koh Samui for the trial, and four reporters from foreign news publications.
One of the foreign reporters said that he was unable to hire a Thai translator after dozens of locals declined the job offer, citing fear from “local mafia.”
Two Thai reporters also briefly attended the trial for less than an hour.
The investigation into grisly murder has been followed closely by foreign reporters, human rights activists, and skeptics, who have expressed concern that the two Burmese men were arrested as scapegoats after police reached a series of dead ends in their efforts to pin down a suspect.
Three judges oversaw the trial yesterday. The lead judge, who was highly engaged throughout the hearing, suggested that the verdict in October is unlikely to settle the matter once and for all; he personally advised the prosecutor to prepare the CCTV footage in a more simple format “so that it will be easy for both of you in the Appeal Court.”
The second session of the trial will conclude tomorrow (July 24).
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