Zhao Zuohai

Date of Alleged Crime:  June 1997

Zhao Zuohai was convicted of murdering his neighbor Zhao Zhenshang. In June 1997, the two Zhaos, both about 45, had a hatchet fight in their hometown of Zhaolou village in Zhecheng County, Shangqiu City Prefecture, Henan Province, China. Four months later Zhenshang's nephew reported to police that his uncle was missing. In May 1999, after a headless body was found in a village well, Zuohai was arrested for the murder of Zhenshang and detained without trial for three years.

Police contended Zuohai confessed to the murder nine times. They brought him to the procuratorate three times, but every time he denied committing the murder and told officials there he was beaten by the police many times. The procuratorate declined to try him as there was no evidence the headless body was that of Zhenshang. Police attempted to identify the body through DNA tests, but after four attempts they obtained no final confirmation. The procuratorate told the the police that if the identification was not certain, there would be no prosecution. In August 2002, the police brought the case to the political and legislative affairs committee of the Shangqiu Communist Party. The committee decided that Zuohai should be prosecuted. Zuohai's lawyer told the non-jury trial court that his client's confession was obtained through torture, but the court paid no attention. The final verdict was that Zuohai had killed Zhenshang for a woman with whom they both had an affair. Zuohai was sentenced to death on Dec. 5, 2002, but his sentence was subsequently commuted to 29 years in prison.

On April 30, 2010, Zhenshang suddenly reappeared in Zhaolou village. According to his recounting, he fled the hatchet fight scene because he feared he might have killed Zuohai during the fight. Zhengshang, who is now a mild hemiplegic, had returned to Zhaolou to seek basic welfare support. He said he was once friendly with Zuohai, but the relationship turned to hatred after the latter refused to return 1800 yuan he had borrowed and also because Zuohai was having an affair with a married woman, which was “really immoral.” He was not remorseful about Zuohai being wronged, saying the latter “had such a bad temper. He needed a lesson somewhere, somehow.”

Zuohai said he confessed to the crime because of police torture. He said police beat him with a long stick, set off fireworks over his head, handcuffed him to a stool and would not let him sleep for about a month. Zuohai added, “It was better to be dead than alive,” and said he did not appeal his conviction because he was afraid of getting beaten.

Following a quick retrial on May 7, 2010 Zuohai was acquitted and released after 11 years of imprisonment. 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 were still in the village, but had been adopted by another family.

On May 13, Zuohai was compensated 650,000 yuan ($96,000) under the state compensation law. Authorities said they will conduct DNA tests to determine the real identity of the headless body found in the well. They have also issued arrest warrants for three police officers suspected of torturing Zuohai into confessing to the murder.  [5/10]


Reference:   China Daily

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Cases in Other Countries, Coerced Confessions, Murder Victims Found Alive