Two Thai fishermen charged with raping and murdering a British tourist on a resort island in southern Thailand went on trial yesterday, facing a maximum sentence of death for a crime the government says has severely damaged the country's reputation.
Shackled on the wrists and ankles, the two men were led into the provincial court of Surat Thani, 520km southwest of Bangkok, by a dozen police guards.
Bualoi Posit, 23, and Wichai Somkhaoyai, 24, pleaded guilty on Thursday to carrying out a brutal New Year's Day attack on Katherine Horton, a 21-year-old student from Wales, whose body was found floating in the Gulf of Thailand on Jan. 2. The pair were arrested last Sunday.
The murder charge carries a maximum penalty of death, and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra made an unusual public appeal earlier this week for the killers to receive the "hardest punishment" possible as the slaying has hurt the country's image and could damage its tourism industry.
Police Major General Santan Chayanont, who headed the police task force investigating the murder, was the first of 11 witnesses called by prosecutors to take the stand.
During a more than two-hour testimony, Santan detailed how the police tracked down the fishermen and urged the court to deliver a harsh punishment, said defense lawyer Amarin Nuimai, who was contacted by mobile phone when the court adjourned for lunch. Santan was expected to continue his testimony in the afternoon.
The defense attorney said his clients kept their heads bent, staring at their laps, during Santan's testimony.
Under interrogation earlier this week, the fishermen allegedly told police they had been drinking and watching pornographic movies on their boat before swimming to shore, and that they spotted Horton while she was walking alone on a beach talking on her cell phone.
The victim's mother, Elizabeth Horton, had told police her daughter called her in Wales from her cell phone, and that she heard her daughter scream, then the line went dead.
Bualoi allegedly told police he grabbed Horton's arms, while Wichai allegedly admitted to hitting her several times with a stick before they raped her and then threw her body into the sea.