China’s ‘nail-gun murderer’: what drove my brother to kill a village official
Jia Jingyuan, the sister of a man executed this month for killing a community head, speaks about her brother’s life before and after their home was forcibly demolished
Before February last year, there was little about Jia Jinlong to suggest that he would make national headlines and become a cause celebre for the legal fraternity.
Jia,30, lived in the village of Beigaoying in Hebei province and, like many others forced to make way for urban development, had watched two years earlier as the village authorities sent in the bulldozers to demolish his home.
Jia had renovated the modest structure in anticipation of his wedding, painting and wallpapering it for life with his then fiancée.
After the walls came down, he spent a fruitless year petitioning for compensation.
The story would have ended there had Jia not decided to take matters into his own hands.
On the first day of the Lunar New Year of 2015, Jia, carrying a modified nail gun, walked past hundreds of villagers watching the annual festive performances, until he reached the village chief responsible for the demolition of his house, and pulled the trigger.
Jia’s home was demolished on May 7, 2013, less three weeks before his birthday and the day he planned to get married.
Beigaoying had been in the path of a major urban rebuilding project since 2009 and the village authorities pressured residents to give up their homes in return for new flats.
The family refused and Jia Jingyuan said the electricity, water and internet to their home was soon cut.
The family said the authorities threatened to reject Jia’s grandmother’s application for a pension, a claim later supported in court by the head of the demolition team who said all families in the village were coerced to make sure “the demolition went smoothly”.
Jia’s father reluctantly agreed to an “unfair” compensation deal in 2010, signing the paperwork without Jia’s knowledge.
Jia had helped build the house and planned to use it as his marital home until he could move somewhere else. He had to live there, his sister said, because there was not enough time to do up another one and the family did not know where they would move.
Jia, looking forward to his marriage after a three-year relationship, had taken a night job at a factory so he could work on the house during the day.
“He spent all of his spare time on the house, and almost everything he earned,” Jia Jingyuan said.
She said the family proposed moving out sometime after her brother’s wedding, a condition the village government originally agreed to.
The first time the bulldozers went in was in February 2013. Standing on the roof with a Chinese flag, Jia yelled at the village chief watching at the scene.
Jia Jingyuan, who was pregnant, stood in front of the bulldozer as other villagers watched on. The demolition crew left eventually after tearing down a wall in front of the house.
Roughly two months later, the bulldozers were back, tearing down the entire house with the help of dozens of people armed with axes, knives and sticks.
Jia and a cousin filming the destruction were beaten up by the thugs.
Jia Jingyuan said uniformed police were at the scene but did nothing to stop the violence.
“They were just filming the process. They were in their police uniforms and came here in police cars,” she said.
At Jia’s trial, he said: “All our furniture was ruined. It was the pain of our heart and lungs torn apart.”
When his repeated petitions went nowhere, Jia bought a nail gun and started planning his revenge. He modified it so it could shoot nails from a distance and picked a special day – Lunar New Year – to kill the village chief, He Jianhua.
Jia was walking away from the crime scene when He was found unconscious with a white nail protruding from his face.
Jia got into his car and said he was on his way to the closest police station to turn himself in when another vehicle crashed into him and the occupants beat him up. He was arrested and put on trial in November last year.
In his defence, he said he had no choice but to kill the village chief.
“I not only cleansed my own humiliation, but had to make sure he could not bully the villagers again,” he said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t know how much evil he would do.”
His supporters, including some of the country’s top legal scholars and prominent lawyers, argued that Jia was a victim of a forced illegal demolition.
Similar cases have surfaced in China before.
Fan Mugen, a villager at Jiangsu who killed two men who tried to force him to move out, was jailed for eight years for “excessive self defence” last year.
In another case in Shandong province, villager Ding Hanzhong killed two unidentified men trying to demolish his house and assault him in 2013. After a court sentenced him to death, the decision was overturned on appeal to a higher court.
But, unlike Jia, neither of those men was accused of premeditated murder.
Prosecutors said Jia bought the nail gun months before the murder and spent three days modifying it.
He even experimented with it, making sure it could penetrate thick timber.
“Shooting the back of his head was for revenge, as shooting elsewhere would not achieve the wanted effect,” Jia testified in court.
The court found him guilty and sentenced him to death, prompting an automatic review by the Supreme People’s Court.
The supreme court upheld the death sentence, saying Jia’s murder was not a spontaneous case led by instant emotion, but “intentional revenge”.
He was executed on Tuesday by lethal injection.
Jia Jingyuan remembers her brother as someone who loved puppies, a devoted gardener, a Chinese chess player and a loyal worker.
“He almost never got into a fight when he was growing up,” she said.
Wei Rujiu, Jia’s lawyer, recalled the last he saw his client, around three weeks before the execution. “He was calm and in a good state,” Wei said. “He said he would accept the sentence. But he didn’t know his execution had been approved.”
Jia was also a poet and wrote his last piece two weeks before his execution.
“How billowing is the world! I often lean on the fence, looking out,” he wrote. “I miss the fragrant flowers and the calming grass, and especially the crickets’ singing and the butterflies’ dancing. The beauty filled my eyes.”