'They beat my head with a long stick'

11:26, May 12, 2010      

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Authorities in Shangqiu of Henan province admitted to media on Tuesday that Zhao Zuohai, a resident of Zhaolou village in Zhengcheng county, was tortured during interrogation, leading to a wrongful murder conviction that jailed him for the past 10 years.

"They beat my head with a long stick. They asked me to drink something that made me really sleepy and set off fireworks above my head," Zhao said.

"They beat me in the police station and I had to admit to the crime then."

"I was tortured during the interrogation," Zhao told China Daily on Tuesday.

Zhao, 57, was cleared of his crime on Sunday, after his alleged victim Zhao Zhenshang, a fellow villager, returned home on April 30.

Shangqiu authorities admitted that Zhao Zuohai was tortured during interrogation before he pleaded guilty.

Zhao pleaded guilty nine times for murder, from 1999 to 2001.

The Shangqiu city government has set up a special team to handle the case. They will try to identify the headless body, which was mistaken as the body of the alleged victim by DNA tests, and to find the real person responsible.

Wang Jianmin, Party chief of the political and legislative affairs committee of Shangqiu, said on Tuesday that the police, the procuratorate and the court that were involved in the case 10 years ago are all responsible for this case of injustice.

When Zhao Zuohai stepped out of the No 1 jail of Henan, he could not stop crying.

He returned home only to find that most of his house had been damaged. His wife also remarried and took away two of their children. His other two children are still in the village, but have been adopted by another family.

"I haven't decided on how much compensation I want But I lost my family and, considering the mental suffering I endured, I'd think at least 1 million yuan ($146,400)", he said.

"But I know they won't just give me what I want, I'll see."

According to a court statement in October 1997, 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. The police decided the body belonged to Zhao Zhenshang. Zhao Zuohai was arrested and convicted of murdering Zhao Zhenshang in 2002.

"All the evidence the police got was fake. Police identified Zhao as the murderer very subjectively, just because the two Zhaos had a fight," said Zhao Qizhong, deputy director of the Shangqiu public security bureau.

The procuratorate had previously declined three times to prosecute Zhao Zuohai as a murderer as there was no evidence to identify the headless body as Zhao Zhenshang.

However, according to the police, Zhao Zuohai admitted nine times that he killed Zhao Zhenshang and dissected his body.

"But he denied that every time he came to the procuratorate. He said he was beaten by the police many times", said Song Guoqiang, head of the prosecution department of the Shangqiu procuratorate.

From May 1999 to 2002, Zhao Zuohai was detained as a suspect for almost three years.

Song said the DNA identification technology was new back then and the police had no final confirmation after four identification attempts.

"The procuratorate told the police if the identification was not certain, no prosecution would be made against the suspect," Song said.

In August 2002, the police turned the case to the political and legislative affairs committee of the Shangqiu Party committee.

The political and legislative affairs committee later decided at a meeting that Zhao should be prosecuted for the murder, local media reported.

The final verdict stated that Zhao Zuohai, who killed Zhao Zhenshang for a woman with whom they both had an affair, would get a suspended death sentence.

"The reason that Zhao Zuohai was not executed - a typical sentence for one who murders another person and dissects the body - is that there were still questionable points in the case," said Yang Songting, a judge from the Shangqiu People's Court.

"For such cases, the suspect should be handed a lighter sentence."

Yang said that, according to the file of the case, Zhao's lawyer brought up the torture during the interrogation to the court, but the court did not pay attention to it.

Zhao Zuohai has been considered as another "She Xianglin", a man who was jailed 15 years in 1998 for allegedly murdering his wife surnamed Zhang, who returned home after her husband had served seven years of his sentence.

"This is another sad, alarming case that strongly affects the credibility of our legal system", said Yang Shaogang, a lawyer from Shanghai.

"There might be more such cases with no 'victims' coming back. I hope the local government in Henan will provide a satisfactory answer to the public regarding this case and punish those who are responsible," the lawyer said.

Source: China Daily


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