Suspected killer on trial in China wrongful execution case

Suspected killer on trial in China wrongful execution case
The parents (L) of Hugjiltu are interviewed in Hohhot, northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on December 15, 2014.

BEIJING - A man who confessed to murdering a woman in China 18 years ago went on trial Monday, three weeks after a court cleared a teenager who was wrongfully executed for the crime.

The Intermediate People's Court in Hohhot, the capital of China's northern Inner Mongolia region, opened the proceedings against Zhao Zhihong and is expected to announce a verdict this week, according to a statement on its official microblog.

The case - which has highlighted the shortcomings in China's Communist Party-controlled legal system - centres on the rape and choking to death of a woman in the toilet of a Hohhot textile factory in 1996.

Soon after the incident, an 18-year-old named Hugjiltu was interrogated for 48 hours, after which he confessed to the crime. He was convicted, sentenced and executed for the crime 61 days after the woman was killed.

Hugjiltu's family tried for years to prove his innocence.

In 2005 Zhao was apprehended by authorities and confessed to more than a dozen rapes and murders, including the 1996 case, but the killing was not among nine for which he was tried the following year.

That court has not issued a verdict in the case, and Zhao has been under detention ever since.

Late last year the Hohhot court officially began a retrial of Hugjiltu, clearing him in December on grounds of "insufficient evidence".

It said in an online post that his parents would receive more than two million yuan ($330,000) in compensation.

Acquittals in China's Communist-controlled court system are extremely rare - 99.93 per cent of defendants in criminal cases were found guilty 2013, according to official statistics.

The use of force to extract confessions remains widespread in the country and defendants often do not have effective defence in criminal trials, leading to regular miscarriages of justice.

China cut the number of capital crimes from 68 to 55 in 2011. According to a report by US-based rights group the Dui Hua Foundation, it executed 2,400 people in 2013, down from 10,000 a decade ago.

China has occasionally exonerated wrongfully executed convicts after others came forward to confess their crimes, or in some cases because the supposed murder victim was later found alive.

But the Communist Party is attempting to reduce public anger over injustices by lessening the influence of local officials over some court cases, and reversing verdicts in some high-profile cases.

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