Zhao Zuohai in central China's Henan province has been jailed for ten years, accused of "murdering" his neighbor Zhao Zhenshang. However, the "victim" reappears recently, u-turning an old-time case that lays bare custody torture by police officers and sends public confidence on local authorities into a tailspin.
In May, 1999, the two Zhaos, unrelated, broke into a hatchet fight at their hometown Zhecheng County in Shangqiu city. Zhao Zhenshang went missing after the incident.
A year later, a headless body was found in a village well and Zhao Zuohai was arrested, accused of murdering the missing Zhao, according to local daily Dahe Newspaper.
Soon afterwards the arrested Zhao confessed to the crime and was given, at first, a death penalty with a two-year execution suspension. The sentence has been twice made lighter, to 29-year imprisonment.
Ten years later, on May 2nd, the "victim" Zhao made a sudden reappearance. According to his recounting, rather than being killed, he simply fled the hatchet fight scene because he feared he might have killed the other Zhao, now imprisoned, in the frenzied hacking. After a ten-year departure, Zhao Zhenshang, now mild hemiplegic, has returned to seek welfare support.
Relatives of the imprisoned Zhao said he made his confession due to police torture.
"I asked him then if he was the killer, he strongly denied that," said Zhao's brother-in-law. He said the police had forced Zhao to drink chili water and had even set off firecrackers over his head.
As for the headless body in village well, a local police officer told the newspaper that the authorities at that time "simply didn't confirm nor deny it was the missing Zhao Zhenshang".
Anyway, Zhao Zuohai was sent to jail, and is still there.
"It's an injustice," Zhao cried out in jail when his sister visited him on Tuesday, "I'm wronged and I want out."
His hometown houses, just like his life, collapsed completely. His wife had since remarried, and three of his four children adopted by other families.