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2 Thais get life in prison for killing Australian

Wednesday - 8/8/2012, 8:50am  ET

BANGKOK (AP) - Two Thai men were sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for murdering an Australian tourist they were trying to rob on one of Thailand's most popular resort islands.

The Phuket provincial court initially sentenced the men to the maximum penalty of death but commuted it to life imprisonment because they had confessed to killing 60-year-old Michelle Smith, said prosecutor Wiwat Kitjaruk. One told reporters later he didn't kill her, and both said they would appeal.

Smith had traveled to Phuket from Perth, Australia with colleagues to survey the island for their travel agency. She was walking back to her hotel after dinner on June 20 with a friend when two men on a passing motorcycle tried to steal her pocketbook.

Streetside surveillance cameras captured the attack: The motorcycle slowed alongside Smith as the bike passenger attempted to grab her bag, but Smith resisted.

Surasak Suwannachote, 26, jumped off the backseat of the motorcycle and stabbed Smith repeatedly before racing back onto the moving bike.

Smith collapsed and died shortly afterward.

Surasak and the motorcycle driver, Surin Tabthong, 37, both admitting to attacking Smith. Surasak told police he had intended to slash her pocketbook strap and never meant to hurt her.

On Wednesday, the two men showed little sign of remorse. Speaking to reporters through the bars of a prison van, both men said they planned to appeal. Surin said, "I didn't do it," despite having confessed to the crime.

Smith's traveling companion, 45-year-old Tammy Lee Lynn, suffered a gash on her arm while trying to aid Smith. She required hospitalization but was well enough to return home.

Thailand's top police officials were assigned to the case, showing the importance authorities placed on prosecuting the killers in an attempt to protect the country's tourist-friendly image.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)