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Thai police chief: Evidence in tourist murder trial not lost

BANGKOK (AP) — Authorities have possession of crucial DNA evidence in the murder trial of two Burmese migrants accused of killing two young British tourists on a Thai resort island, the national police chief insisted Friday, disputing reports that it might have been lost.

The trial has drawn global attention both for the gruesome murders on the quiet, scenic island of Koh Tao last year and for an investigation that raised questions about police and judicial competency.

The latest questions arose three days into the trail on Thursday when media covering the trial on the nearby island of Koh Samui quoted a police witness as saying some of the evidence may have been lost or destroyed. The court was expected to rule Friday on a defense request to re-examine the DNA evidence.

“It is not lost,” national police chief Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters in Bangkok. “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.”

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Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.

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