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Thai court hands down death sentence for murder of British tourists

A Thai court has issued a death sentence to two Myanmar migrants convicted for the gruesome murder of two British backpackers. The case was marred by allegations of forced confessions and shoddy investigative work.

A Thai court on Thursday sentenced Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22, to death for the

high-profile murder of two British holiday makers

on the resort island of Koh Tao last year, in a case that stained Thailand's reputation as a tourist destination and highlighted problems in the justice system.

David Miller, 24, was bludgeoned to death and left to drown, while Hannah Witheridge, 23, was hit over the head before being raped and killed in a grotesque murder that shocked Thailand. The two had met on the island known for its white sand beaches and scuba diving.

Both defendants admitted to the September 15, 2014 murders after police, under pressure to solve the crime, arrested them nearly two weeks later. Both defendants later retracted their confessions saying they were tortured by police.

Human rights groups

had repeatedly called for an independent investigation, claiming the two migrants had been made scapegoats in a botched police investigation.

The case revealed mass incompetence in the Thai police and investigators came under criticism for failing to secure the crime scene properly and preventing potential suspects from fleeing the island. They also refused to test key pieces of evidence, including Witheridge's clothes.

Prosecutors said the evidence against the men proved their guilt, including DNA traces found on Witheridge's body and Miller's phone and sunglasses in the defendants' possession.

However, the defense said the police bungled the investigation from the start and the defendants were tortured into confessing. They highlighted that DNA traces on the hoe used in the crime did not match the defendants', and forensic work was flawed.

The case was reviewed by judges and not a jury, as is the norm in Thailand. The judges found the DNA evidence to be satisfactory and that there was no evidence of forced confessions.

Miller's family was present at the reading of the verdict. His brother Michael Miller issued a statement following the reading of the guilty verdict.

"We believe what happened today represents justice for Hannah and Miller," he said in a statement to reporters. "The Royal Thai Police conducted a thorough and methodical investigation ... evidence against the two was overwhelming," he said.

The defense said the defendants would appeal the decision.

Rights groups said the case highlighted the widespread practice of

migrants from neighboring countries with limited rights

being blamed for crimes while powerful and wealthy Thais skirt the justice system.

cw/jil (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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