Murder convict set free after 'victim' turns up

By Wang Jingqiong and Li Yuefeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-10 07:08
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SHANGQIU, Henan - A convicted murderer has been declared innocent and released after languishing for about 10 years in jail - because his alleged victim returned home.

Zhao Zuohai, a 57-year-old resident of Zhaolou village in Zhecheng county, was wrongfully convicted of the murder of a fellow villager in 1999, the Henan Provincial Higher People's Court said at a press conference on Sunday.

The suspended death sentence handed down in 2002 was rescinded; and the court also said Zhao Zuohai will be compensated.

According to the State Compensation Law, the amount payable is calculated on the average daily salary of a State employee in the previous year.

Based on the current level, which is 112 yuan ($16) a day, Zhao Zuohai will receive at least 306,600 yuan for losing his freedom from Dec 5, 2002, when he was sentenced.

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In October 1997, according to a court statement, Zhao Zuohai and his neighbor Zhao Zhenshang had a fight, after which the latter went missing. Four months later, Zhao Zhenshang's nephew reported to the police that his uncle was missing.

In May 1999, a headless body was found in the village. Zhao Zuohai was arrested and, in 2002, convicted of murdering Zhao Zhenshang.

However, Zhao Zhenshang, the 58-year-old "victim", returned to the village on April 30. The Higher People's Court in Henan confirmed Zhao Zhenshang's identity on Friday and acquitted Zhao Zuohai.

Zhang Liyong, chief judge of the Henan Higher People's Court, said an investigation has been launched into the wrongful conviction.

Zhang said those who were responsible for the judicial error will be held accountable; and that judges should learn a lesson from the case.

Zhao Zhenshang told Beijing News that he fled the village because he had attacked Zhao Zuohai and was afraid he might have killed him.

Zhao Zhenshang, who is paralyzed and has no money for treatment, said he was forced to come back to his village to get basic welfare payouts.

However, he said he was not remorseful about Zhao Zuohai being wronged.

"He had such a bad temper. He needed a lesson somewhere, somehow," Zhao Zhenshang was quoted as saying.

Zhao Zhenshang said he was once friendly with Zhao Zuohai, but the relationship turned to hatred after the latter refused to return 1,800 yuan he had borrowed, and also because Zhao Zuohai was having an affair with a married woman in the village, which was "really immoral".

Zhao Zuolan, Zhao Zuohai's sister, told China Daily her brother had confessed to the crime because of police torture.

"My brother told me he was really treated unjustly," she said, adding that Zhao showed her a scar on his forehead caused when he was hit with a gun.

Zhao Zuohai had a wife and four children when he was convicted. Now, he has no family as his wife remarried and took two children with her. The other two have been adopted by other families.

Zhao's ex-wife said she was tortured by the police for about a month in 1999 when the headless body was found.

"The police kept asking me if I knew Zhao Zuohai killed the man. I said I didn't know, but they beat me," she told Beijing News. "I married another villager after I learned he was convicted."

Police are trying to identify the headless body, which is the key to "the investigation", Beijing Times reported.

The case resembles a far-reaching one in 1998 in which then 32-year-old She Xianglin was sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly murdering his wife surnamed Zhang.

The husband was reportedly having an affair before his wife disappeared from their hometown in Jingshan county of Central China's Hubei province in January 1994. Three months later, a body found in a local pond was identified as Zhang by her relatives. She was arrested in late April 1994.

However on March 28, 2005, She's wife returned home, by which time her husband had served seven years of his sentence.

He was declared innocent and released on April 13, 2005. In September the same year, he received a compensation of 460,000 yuan.