Victim buried as killer sentenced to death

Funeral of a backpacker: Mourners told young woman murdered by Thai monk was 'universally loved'
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The Thai monk who murdered Johanne Masheder, a 23-year-old British tourist, was sentenced to death yesterday as his victim was buried at her home village in Cheshire.

Three weeks after his arrest the Buddhist monk, Yodchat Suaphu, 21, yesterday asked the court to execute him at the site of the murder, near some caves at the tourist attraction of Kanchanaburi, close to the notorious bridge over the river Kwai where thousands of allied prisoners of war perished.

He said he wanted to die within 24 hours, a request unlikely to be granted as all death sentences in Thailand are reviewed by the King, who does not respond within such a short space of time.

The trial and sentencing was brisk as Yodchat had pleaded guilty. Such pleas usually produce a reduced sentence but Judge Somchat Thanyavi Nichkul said that the death penalty was unavoidable because the defrocked monk had failed to reform his ways despite serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for rape. He said the murder had damaged the reputation of both Thailand and the nation's religion, Buddhism.

A remorseful Yodchat spoke to reporters after the trial, apologising to Miss Masheder's parents who went to Thailand to search for her body. He said that he had not meant to commit murder but was out of control because of his drug addiction.

During the trial he admitted killing Miss Masheder - a newly qualified solicitor - and dumping her body in a cave. He also stole her camera and money totalling less than pounds 10, which he said he needed to buy drugs.

Although he was not tried for the offence, Yodchat had also told the police that he was responsible for the rape of an Austrian woman who wrote both to the authorities and a Bangkok-based English language newspapers to warn other visitors of the dangers posed by a monk in Kanchanaburi. Her warnings led the police to Yodchat within a day of discovering Miss Masheder's body on 14 January.

The murder followed a number of sex, corruption and criminal scandals involving Thai monks which have caused an uproar in this devoutly Buddhist country. Criminals have been known to enter the priesthood as a way of both shielding their identity.

The priesthood in Thailand is more fluid that in other countries, many young men serve some time as monks and it is common for Thais to enter and leave monasteries. There are now calls for tighter supervision of temples and monks and the government is being urged to establish a national identification system for monks.

At the funeral in Wincle, Cheshire, the Rev David Moir told mourners packed into the village church that Miss Masheder had been a "universally loved" young woman "of whom everyone was justly proud [and] about to set out on a well-deserved career in her chosen field".

However, he said that her death on the last leg of a round-the-world trip should not trigger a life of resentment and bitterness among her family.

"Grief is a debilitating thing and I am sure from what I know of Johanne that she wouldn't want us to hold on too much to this feeling which is anyway so enslaving," said Mr Moir.

After the service Mr Moir said that the death sentence would be satisfactory news to those who thought of God as a god of retribution.

"Retribution is the normal, human, knee-jerk reaction. Hopefully you will be able to have a more mature reaction later. It is all to do with how you think of God," said Mr Moir.