The Murder Case of Yao Jiaxin (Updated with Verdict)

Another case involving a car, a privileged college student, and a rural peasant, has inflamed emotions among Chinese netizens on both sides of the case. The assailant, Yao Jiaxin, a promising student at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music, struck a woman as she was riding her electric scooter. When she tried to memorize his license plate number, he stabbed and killed her. Netizens have responded in outrage, many demanding that Yao be sentenced to death, while a few supporters have spoken up in his defense. From Global Voices:

Yao Jiaxin is a student at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. At around midnight on October 20, 2010, he hit a 26-year-old woman, Zhang Miao, with his Chevrolet near the university campus. When he saw Zhang was copying down his car’s license plate number, he took out a knife and stabbed Zhang six times until she died. While he was trying to escape, he hit two other people in a nearby village and was caught on the spot.

On October 22, the police managed to connect the two car accidents together and arrested Yao Jiaxin on charges him of murder. On October 23, Yao described the details of the murder case to the police. He was then put on trial on March 23, 2011, at the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court. Since Yao has confessed to his crime and shown remorse for the murder, it is quite likely that he will escape the death penalty, like other hit-and-run incidents.

However, online public opinion demands that “Yao Jiaxin must die”.

When the news was first reported online, many believed that Yao was a typical second generation rich kid.

Global Voices translated comments from both sides of the issue:

Why all the hesitation? Should be shot to death asap.
Who dares to cross the road in the future?

Fly together 2011-04-18 13:13:39

No matter if Yao is second generation poor or second generation rich, he has to pay for his crime with his life.

If I were him (Yao), I would have stabbed her as well. How come the public opinion all supports the victim? How come they do not consider how shameless it is for her to mark down the car’s license number?

People’s Daily also reports on Yao Jiaxin’s case, focusing on Yao’s status as a music student:

“For fear that country people may badger me and my family endlessly for compensation”, Yao later said, he took a knife and stabbed the woman many times, killing her on the spot.

What brought this case to public attention was the identity of the suspect rather than his act, cruel as it was. Yao, 21, is a promising piano student at Xi’an Music Conservatory.

What made him do it?

Li Meijin, an eminent crime psychologist, surmised on television that Yao’s first plunge of the knife was meant to kill but afterwards his action “could be (seen as) a mechanical repetition, as if hitting the piano keys”.

The case has gained further attention in the legal community when the judge announced that public opinion would be taken into account during the sentencing. From the Economic Observer:

The media attention surrounding the case and the Xi’an People’s Intermediate Court’s decision to survey the public about Yao’s sentence has also raised concerns about the fairness of the trial.

According to a special interview conducted by West China Metropolitan News, Sun Jiabo, an official from the Xi’an People’s Intermediate Court, “public opinion will be taken into account during the sentencing, but the judgment will be made in strict accordance with criminal law.”

Commentators in the domestic media have been unsparing in their critique both of the defence’s case and Xi’an’s criminal procedures:

Chen Jieren (陈杰人) writes in the Economic Observer Online:

“A survey of public opinion on a high profile case can more or less be called a ‘democratic practice.’ But the Xi’an court is engaging in illegal criminal procedures to pander to the public.””

He adds: “The majority of survey participants are Yao’s classmates from the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. I would imagine that his classmates will be more sympathetic toward Yao. This type of survey is no different from consulting his friends and families. How can this type of survey be taken seriously?”

Ye Doudou (叶逗逗), a commentator for Caixin wrties:

“This is not a mock trial competition in law school. The decision in Yao’s case will have a significant impact on both families. This game of soliciting of public opinion that pays no attention to legal procedures needs to stop!”

For a similar case, read about the so-called “Li Gang case.

Update: Xinhua reports that Yao Jiaxin was sentenced to death Friday:

Yao Jiaxin, a university student who murdered a young mother after accidentally running into her with his car in October 2010, was sentenced to death on Friday by a court in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.

[...] The court also handed down a life-long revocation of Yao’s political rights in Friday’s instance judgement and ordered Yao to pay 45,498.50 yuan (about 6,983 U.S. dollars) in compensation to Zhang’s family.

April 21, 2011 11:43 AM
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