A top provincial court rejected a condemned man's confession to a rape and murder committed two decades ago.
The Hebei Higher People's Court yesterday rejected an appeal by Wang Shujin based on his confession to the rape and murder of a woman, whose body was found in a cornfield in Shijiazhuang in 1994. Nie Shubin , another Hebei man, was convicted of the murder and executed a year later, at age 20.
Wang was sentenced to die in 2007 for raping and murdering three other women, but appealed on the grounds that he had confessed to the fourth murder, for which Nie was convicted.
The Hebei court's ruling quashed hopes that Wang's confession would provide new evidence for a review of Nie's case. The conviction, which lawyers described as "questionable," was based on Nie's own testimony. No footprints were found at the scene nor were DNA tests conducted on the victim.
Nie initially denied the accusation but confessed after a week of tushen, or "immediate and intensive interrogation". A frequently used police term in China, tushen generally involves beating, sleep deprivation and other cruel treatment.
Nie's family insist he was innocent and have sought a review of the case since Wang made his confession, but in vain.
Wang's appeal was heard by the Hebei Higher People's Court in July. His death penalty will be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.
The Hebei court ruled yesterday that Wang's confession contradicted existing evidence from the case and would not be recognised, it said in a statement at its official microblog.
The original verdict said that a shirt had been wrapped around the victim's neck, yet Wang failed to mention that in his confession. His claim that he stamped on the victim's chest and heard her ribs crack after he strangled her also contradicted evidence that her ribs were intact. Wang also said the victim was about his height, 172cm, when in fact she was 152cm, the court said.
Disappointed at the ruling, 40 lawyers including Li Fangping, Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong yesterday published an open letter "strongly condemning" the Hebei court for upholding Wang's death sentence and rejecting his confession, blocking a possible review of Nie's case.
"The ruling ignored Wang's confession and numerous matches with the evidence," the lawyers wrote. "It dismissed the fact that he confessed to the rape and murder, in an attempt to completely block the appeal, legally and virtually, against the rape and murder conviction of Nie, which was questionable on many points."
The letter called for the Supreme People's Court to review Nie's case, not the Hebei court. It also called for the supreme court, when reviewing Wang's sentence, to focus on whether his confession was factual.