Chinese man cleared over 1995 murder after spending 23 years in jail

  • Jilin court overturns earlier verdict that Jin Zhehong, now 50, had killed a 20-year-old woman, ruling the ‘evidence was insufficient and the facts not clear’
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 7:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 7:33am

The defendant in one of China’s longest-running murder cases has had his name cleared after 23 years in jail, four retrials and four death sentences.

Jin Zhehong, 50, was finally exonerated on Friday by the Jilin High People’s Court over the 1995 murder of a 20-year-old woman whose body was found in the wilderness.

It overturned an earlier court verdict that Jin had let the woman hitchhike on his motorbike, killed her and left her body in a ditch.

On Friday, the court ruled that “the evidence was insufficient and the facts were not clear”, which invalidated the murder charge.

According to the verdict provided by Jin’s lawyer, Li Jinxing, to the South China Morning Post, the court found that the previous evidence was contradictory and key facts such as the exact time and place of death, and the murder weapon, could not be established.

The court concluded that there was no solid evidence linking Jin to the murder, since none of his DNA was found near the body, and that the original charge rested solely on Jin’s confessions which were unreliable.

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Li told the Post that Jin had been “handicapped” by the time he spent in prison.

“He has had a stroke and suffers from several illnesses including high blood pressure and diabetes,” Li said. “His psychological state is very bad … and his body has been broken.”

Leaning on a pair of crutches, Jin appeared outside court on Friday morning alongside his lawyers and his son, Jin Yongxin.

“My father fought in the Chinese civil war and helped defend Korea against the US in the Korean war. My mother died of illness brought on by my situation, and when she passed her eyes were open,” Jin Zhehong was quoted as saying by news site Thepaper.cn.

“Right now, what I most want to do is to pay my respects at their gravestones.”

Asked about his 23 years in prison, Jin said: “When this happened, I told myself: ‘As long as I am alive, I will be able to clear up the situation – I did not murder anyone.”

Jin said that he planned to spend some time recuperating after so many years in jail and would live in an elderly care home in Yongji county, Jilin province.

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“Even late justice is still justice,” his lawyer Li was quoted as saying, adding that he was satisfied that Jin’s name had finally been cleared.

Jin’s verdict would give hope to others who were awaiting retrial and should motivate the government to speed up efforts to improve China’s court appeals system, Li said.

He told the Post that Jin had not yet considered seeking state compensation for his wrongful conviction.

“Right now, his first priority is physical and mental recovery, and afterwards we will give him some advice [on seeking compensation],” Li said. “Ultimately the decision is up to him, but I believe the state will respect his right to do so.”

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Another of Jin’s lawyers, Xi Xiangdong, previously told the media his client had “repeatedly accused the investigators of using torture to extract confessions out of him”. “He was always appealing while he was in prison, but the case only started to turn around in 2014,” Xi said.

China has one of the highest conviction rates in the world – it was 99.9 per cent in 2016. In comparison, the conviction rate in the US federal court system is 93 per cent.

The Supreme People’s Court abolished the use of conviction rates as a performance benchmark in 2014 in the hope that it would lead to fewer miscarriages of justice and reduce the instances of torture and forced confessions.