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18 Jan 2006 10:30
A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced two men to death for the rape and murder of a 21-year-old British tourist, amid political pressure over fears for the country’s post-tsunami tourism industry.
A three-judge panel handed down their verdict less than three weeks after Welsh tourist Katherine Horton was brutally beaten to death on New Year’s Day on the resort island of Samui, near this southern town on the Gulf of Thailand.
The judges said DNA evidence linking fishermen Bualoy Kothisit (23) and Wichai Sonkhaoyai (24) to the crime could not be disputed, describing the defendants as “inhuman”.
“The court considers that the evidence proves without a doubt that the two suspects committed the crime of gang rape and murder,” said Judge Jamnong Sudjaimai, delivering the verdict on behalf of the panel.
“Their minds are inhuman. They murdered the victim to conceal their crime.”
The two fishermen both pleaded guilty to Horton’s rape and murder, which often leads Thai courts to issue lighter sentences.
The pair, handcuffed and wearing brown prison uniforms, looked stunned as the judge read the decision.
International attention to the case prompted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to make an unusual appeal for the two to receive the “harshest possible punishment”, saying they had damaged Thailand’s reputation.
The crime came at a sensitive time for the country’s tourism industry, which accounts for six percent of gross domestic product, as it tries to rebuild following the devastating December 2004 tsunami.
Since Horton’s death, police said another British tourist was raped in the beach resort of Pattaya.
The tourism ministry has announced stepped-up security measures at vacation hotspots, including additional police patrols.
About 750 000 Britons visit Thailand every year, according to the British embassy.
During the one-day trial on Friday, prosecutors said the two defendants had swum ashore from their boat after an evening of drinking and watching pornography with three other friends.
They went looking for a victim, and found Horton walking down the beach alone as she talked to her mother in Britain on a cellphone, they said.
After raping her, the pair beat her with a beach umbrella, dumped her body at sea, and then returned to brag about what they had done with their friends on the boat, prosecutors said.
Two of the friends testified against them during the trial.
The court disregarded an appeal by Horton’s mother Elizabeth, who called for the pair to spend the rest of their lives in jail, saying her daughter would not have believed capital punishment an appropriate sentence.
Before the trial, the chief justice of the Surat Thani provincial court said the judges had considered Horton’s mother’s appeal for leniency.
“The victim’s mother has one opinion, but different people have other opinions. I understand Katherine’s mother’s feelings,” Pongsak Tragulsilpa said.
Thai law requires an automatic appeal within 30 days in capital cases. The appeals court in Bangkok could take several months to consider the case before deciding whether the men will actually face lethal injection.
Thailand has not carried out an execution since December 2003 when four men—three drug traffickers and a murderer—were the first to be killed by lethal injection.
Pongsak told reporters the court had not been influenced by Thaksin’s call for the execution of the two men.
“The court carried out this case swiftly and promptly because it is under public scrutiny, but the court’s power is independent. The panel of judges will make their decision, and no one can interfere,” he said.
Hundreds of mourners attended Horton’s funeral on Tuesday in her native south Wales. - Sapa-AFP
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