Thai men get life for Aust woman's murder

By Ron Corben
Two Thai men have been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Australian Michelle Smith

Two Thai men have avoided the death penalty, but will serve life sentences for the stabbing murder of Perth travel agent Michelle Smith.

After a three day trial, a provincial judge in Phuket on Wednesday sentenced Surasak "Boy" Suwannachot, 26, who stabbed Smith, and motorbike rider, Surin Toptong, 37, to life imprisonment for the June 20 murder.

The men, wearing brown prison garb and ankle chains, showed little emotion during the sentencing at the Phuket Provincial Courthouse.

On Monday both men had entered guilty pleas to the murder.

The judge said capital punishment had been warranted, but because the men confessed, the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.

Under Thai law life in jail is initially set at 100 years.

On the night of the attack Ms Smith, along with a group of nine other travel agents visiting Phuket, were returning to their resort when the attacked took place at about 10pm.

Surasak, riding pillion passenger on a motorbike, attempted to grab Ms Smith's shoulder bag as the bike passed but the Australian mother-of-three fought back.

He then jumped off the bike and slashed the knife at Smith and her travelling companion, Tammee Lynn, 42, also from Perth.

While Ms Lynn suffered deep cuts to her right arm, Ms Smith was fatally struck in the upper left chest. She died soon after, despite Ms Lynn's attempts to stem the blood loss.

"Justice appears to have been done after a fairly detailed court hearing," Australia's Honorary Consul on Phuket, Larry Cunningham, told AAP after the sentencing.

Ms Smith's murder triggered an intense investigation and a police crackdown as the island is highly dependent on the more than 400,000 Australian visitors to its resorts each year.

Tourism and hotel businesses had also offered a reward of 300,000 baht ($A9600) for information leading to the killers' arrest.

Aided by CCTV footage and media coverage and a tip-off from a local restaurant owner, two men were identified, tracked down and detained on June 25.

While officials stress that Phuket is generally safe for travellers, the resort destination has faced criticism over local extortion rackets by taxi drivers.