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Five men exonerated in woman's murder

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-13 07:42

 Five men exonerated in woman's murder

Miao Xinhua (left) and his brother, Miao Xinrong, walk out of a local court in Nanping, Fujian province, after their murder conviction was overturned by the Fujian High People's Court on Tuesday. The two men had been wrongly accused, along with three other family members, in the killing of a woman in 2003.Chen Leizhu / For China Daily

A man sentenced to death for homicide 14 years ago was acquitted on Tuesday because of "insufficient evidence" after a retrial in Fujian province.

Miao Xinhua, 40, was convicted in 2004 of killing a woman in Ningde and then chopping up the body. Four of his relatives, including his father, were also jailed for supposedly helping to cover up the crime.

Yet judges at the Fujian High People's Court exonerated all five, saying the original verdict was based on "unclear facts and insufficient evidence".

Mao Lixin, the lawyer representing Miao, said his client's first task upon release will be to help his family arrange a funeral for his father, who died last year. He will also begin the process of applying for state compensation.

Police claimed at the first trial that all five had confessed during interrogation, but Mao said none of the men confessed in court or entered a guilty plea.

"Their confessions were obtained illegally, because each one was not the same, or was inconsistent," he said, adding that officers may have used torture during the interrogations.

At his first trial at Ningde Intermediate People's Court, Miao was found guilty of strangling the victim, surnamed Yang, during a quarrel on April 6, 2003, and then chopping her into seven pieces with help from his father, Miao Deshu, and his brother, Miao Xinrong.

It was said at the first trial that the body parts were put in a plastic bag and transported by tractor by the three men along with Miao Xinguang, another brother, and the accused killer's uncle, Miao Jinjia, to a shabby house in Fujigang village.

Miao Xinhua was sentenced to death, while the others were given prison terms ranging from three to eight years. All five appealed the verdict.

In 2006, the high court upheld Miao Xinhua's conviction but reduced his sentence to death with a two-year reprieve. The other sentences remained unchanged. Further appeals resulted in the high court agreeing in 2016 to retry the case, and the hearing was held on July 28.

Mao, the lawyer, was thrilled when his client was declared not guilty.

"This shows the country's progress in the rule of law and also exemplifies the principle of not handing down punishments in doubtful cases," he said.

Prosecutors could not prove that "hairs collected in a bathroom at Miao Xinhua's home belonged to the victim Yang, and investigators didn't find any fingerprint or footprint from my client at the crime scene", he said.

Ji Chunwei, a criminal lawyer and a former forensics officer from Guangdong province, said the acquittal showed that judicial authorities have given more weight to physical evidence than to oral confessions.

"The best way to root out such wrongful convictions is to make everyone involved in a case - including the judge, prosecutor, police officers and lawyers - uphold the accuracy of evidence and effectively enforce legal principles," he said.

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