A Chinese court has sentenced to death a German citizen convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her partner in a fatal hammer and knife attack in the coastal city of Xiamen.
The verdict on Tuesday came three years after the 36-year-old man was found guilty of murdering the foreign couple in the city in Fujian province in a first instance ruling by the Xiamen Intermediate People’s Court, German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
The man, identified as Philipp B in the German press, was found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend, identified as Venezuelan citizen Jennifer M, and her partner at the time, identified as German citizen Jörn-Christian H.
The court ruled that Philipp B fatally attacked the couple, who were parents to a two-year-old son, with a hammer and a knife in a side alley near Xiamen’s upscale Marco Polo Hotel on the evening of June 6, 2010.
Philipp B met his former girlfriend when he studied sinology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported. The couple separated in 2006 and the victim moved to Xiamen the following year, according to reports.
Philipp B tried to commit suicide immediately after the killings and received treatment in Xiamen. An initial Xinhua report suggested that the homicide was triggered by a dispute over a debt. The trial concluded in 2011 with a guilty verdict, but no sentence.
A member of staff reached at the Xiamen court said he knew of the sentence, but declined to provide further details.
The German can appeal the sentence but if it is upheld on appeal by the Fujian Province High People’s Court, China’s Supreme People’s Court would still have to approve the death penalty.
The man is the second European citizen sentenced to death in China in recent years after British citizen Akmal Shaikh was executed in 2009 for drug trafficking.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the sentence at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday. The German government would do “everything in its power” to prevent the execution from being carried out, the ministry's spokesman Martin Schäfer said.
"I can assure you that the federal government will do everything in its power to work towards preventing or changing the sentence" he said, adding that Germany opposed the death penalty as a matter of principle. Western Germany abolished capital punishment in 1949. Eastern Germany abolished it in 1987.
In 2007, when China's Supreme People’s Court resumed reviewing all death sentences, it overturned 15 per cent of them, said John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based legal watchdog. He estimated that the percentage of overturned sentences had declined since to about 10 per cent. “There is time to save this man,” he said.