COURTS

Executed teenager cleared of rape and murder, 18 years after China put him to death

Miscarriage of justice resulted in wrong man being killed by firing squad in 1996, review finds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2014, 10:58am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2014, 7:51pm

A mainland court has exonerated a young man executed for rape and murder nearly 20 years ago, but analysts cautioned that wrongful convictions would continue until the judicial system was thoroughly reformed.

The Inner Mongolia Higher People's Court said yesterday that Huugjilt, who was 18 when he was killed by firing squad in 1996, was innocent.

"We learned a heartbreaking lesson in this case; we are sorry," said Zhao Jianping, the court's deputy president. He presented 30,000 yuan (HK$37,960) to the parents as an expression of "sympathy", according to Xinhua.

Huugjilt's parents later visited his grave, where they burned a copy of the verdict "to tell him that the wrongful conviction has been redressed", the family said on its Weibo account.

His 62-year-old mother broke into tears in front of the grave. "I knew you were innocent, but I could not help you; I miss you so much," she said, according to video carried on the website of The Beijing News.

The court said it would set up a team to investigate the officials involved in the case.

The acquittal came three days after the Supreme People's Court ordered the Shandong Provincial Higher Court to review another controversial case. Nie Shubin was convicted of raping and murdering a woman in 1994 and was executed the following year. He was 21.

In 2005, a man arrested for a separate crime, Wang Shujin, confessed to the murder. The top court in Hebei , where Nie was executed, said it would review the case but there has been little progress in nine years.

The judicial system has been criticised as lacking independence, with government officials regularly steering court decisions, and prosecutors using "confessions" obtained through police torture.

Xu Xin, a law professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, had long pushed for reviews of the two cases. He said that without fundamental reform to improve judicial independence, "there will be more wrongful convictions even though some are being redressed".

He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, said the two reviews were landmarks but little had been done to reform the judiciary. "There's no change to the problems in the system, such as inadequate judicial independence, government intervention, too much power in police hands, an unclear accountability mechanism and wide use of torture."

Huugjilt's case drew wide public interest after a series of media reports, later supported by legal experts, claiming the information presented to the court was flawed. Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the public sympathised with Huugjilt and Nie because they were executed at a young age.

Huugjilt was found guilty of raping and murdering the woman in a public toilet in Hohhot on April 9, 1996. He was sentenced to death and executed two months later. In 2005, an alleged serial rapist and killer, Zhao Zhihong, told police he had carried out the crime. But a retrial was held only in November.