Chinese court is put to test as
high-profile murder case returns to spotlight
Hebei’s prosecutor rejected a death row inmate’s appeal on
Tuesday morning, dismissing his murder confession as false
A highly anticipated case of a convicted murderer went to court
in northern Hebei province on Tuesday, in what some scholars say
could put China’s legal system to the test.
On the first day of trial, death row inmate Wang Shujin, 46, was
accused of lying when he confessed to a 1994 murder, the court
heard. The Hebei man, who was convicted of raping and killing three
women in 1994 and 1995, is appealing his death sentence, asking for
leniency because he confessed to a fourth murder case.
But a prosecutor with the Higher People’s Court, in provincial
capital Shijiazhuang, said Wang’s reason for appealing was not
valid. “Crucial” details provided by Wang “significantly
mismatched” evidence found at the crime scene of the fourth case,
the prosecutor said.
“If it were this simple, why did it take eight full years for
Hebei to present the evidence?” prominent Peking University law
professor He Weifang wrote on Weibo after the prosecutor tried to
dismiss Wang’s appeal. “Are they really impartial?”
Wang had confessed to four murders after he was arrested in
2005, but he was convicted in only three of them. Another man,
20-year-old Nie Shubin, had taken the fall for an August 1994 rape
and murder of a woman in a Shijiazhuang suburb.
Nie was executed in 1995.
At the time, Wang’s confession shocked observers across China.
Legal scholars and activists were surprised again after Hebei’s
court charged Wang for only three murders, ignoring the fourth.
“It’s a huge irony,” law professor He said in
an earlier interview with Chinese media. “While Wang yells,
‘There’s this other crime I committed. Convict me
please!’, the court tells him, ‘Oh no, we are
only after your other crimes’.”
Wang wasn’t aware of Nie’s conviction at the time of his
confession, nor did he know Nie. He admitted to have acted alone,
according to Chinese media reports. Wang was sentenced in 2007 and
promptly appealed. He argued that the court had failed to charge
him for the August 1994 murder, and he demanded leniency because of
his contribution in proving Nie’s innocence.
The court has not absolved Nie’s name since, prompting criticism
from He, who said China’s judicial system had failed to recognise
and correct its fatal mistake. “It fell on the real murderer to
clear Nie’s name, which is such a shame,” he had said.
On Tuesday, Nie’s mother, Zhang Huanzhi, was allowed to sit in
on the proceedings, according to Hebei court authorities. Zhang has
said her son had confessed to the crime after being tortured, and
she has since been petitioning to rescind Nie’s conviction.
“The only reason my husband and I have lived until now is to see
our son’s name cleared,” Zhang once said in an interview with
The prosecutor said on Tuesday that Wang
had failed to mention a coloured blouse wrapped
around the victim’s neck when the body was found. He had also
erroneously described the victim’s height. Wang was also questioned
on the method he had claimed to use in the killing: an autopsy
showed no fractures endured by the victim, but Wang had claimed he
stomped on her chest after strangling her, the court heard.
Based on these discrepancies, the prosecutor dismissed Wang’s
claim that he was the murderer.
Wang’s lawyer on Tuesday morning responded by requesting to
review the prosecutor’s evidence. The court said it had granted the
request, and would resume the trial on an unspecified date.
The trial on Tuesday was broadcasted live, eliciting angry
comments on the official Weibo page of Hebei’s higher court, many
of them referring to the fact that Wang’s case is now being tried
in the same court that convicted Nie.
“You are insulting everyone’s intelligence,” said a
“These shameless people keep lying to cover up their own
mistake,” said many others.
“The defendant tries every means to have himself convicted, and
the Hebei prosecutor does everything to prove his innocence,” the
law professor, He, commented on Weibo on Tuesday. “What an amazing