Man walks free after 21 years on death row

An east China court on Monday announced that it had quashed the conviction of a man sentenced to death 21 years ago.

Chen Man, who is now 53, was released Monday from Meilan Prison in south China’s Haikou City after Zhejiang Higher People’s Court overturned his conviction.

Chen was arrested at the end of 1992 on charges of arson and murder. He was sentenced to death suspended for two years by Haikou Intermediate People’s Court in November 1994.

However, the local procuratorate claimed the sentence was too light and went to a higher court to have the suspension removed. Death sentences in China are usually carried out very quickly after the final verdict, unless conditions are attached. The procuratorate’s request was rejected by Hainan Higher People’s Court in 1999, beginning a 16-year ordeal of appeals for Chen and his family.

“His role in the murder is not clear and the original judgement lacks evidence, therefore, the guilty verdict cannot be upheld,” Zhejiang court said in its statement.

The deputy head of Hainan higher court apologized to Chen after the announcement, according to Chen’s attorney.

The victim Zhong Zuokuan, Chen’s landlord, was killed on Christmas Day 1992. Chen had argued with Zhong over the rent and been asked to move out. According to the original verdict Chen hacked Zhong to death with a kitchen knife and set fire to his body.

Zhejiang higher court was ordered by the Supreme People’s Court to re-investigate the case in April last year. It reviewed the previous evidence and found a number of failings, according to Zhang Qin, chief judge at the retrial.

Chen’s confession was inconsistent. He switched many times from admission of guilt to denying the charges and back again, Zhang said.

His statement on the timing, methods and weapon used were not consistent with the crime scene investigation, forensic report or testimony of witnesses, Zhang said.

When the Zhejiang court re-opened the trial in December, Chen claimed that some of his confession was made after torture, according to earlier media reports.

The court gave Chen the right to apply for state compensation.

China is working to rein in judicial misconduct as a number of wrongful convictions have raised concerns over miscarriages of justice.

One notorious case was that of an 18-year-old man named Huugjilt, who was found guilty of rape and murder by an Inner Mongolian court in 1996 and executed the same year. He was posthumously acquitted in December 2014.

Twenty-seven officials, including eight court staff, were punished over the case, local authorities said on Sunday. A former senior police officer in the regional capital Hohhot may face criminal charges.The other 26 received administrative penalties including admonitions and records of demerit.

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate launched an internal campaign in April to uncover possible judicial wrongdoing in cases from the past two years.

Following the acquittal, Chen’s parents published a letter online to thank dozens of lawyers, journalists and lawmakers. They also thanked “many unknown people” for supporting their appeal, calling them “anonymous heroes.”

“The good is rewarded and the evil punished,” they said in the letter citing a Chinese proverb. “Those who created the wrongful conviction should be severely punished according to law, otherwise they will not turn to good and may harm others again.” Xinhua