Murder trial of Chinese official's wife: charges uncontested
In the proceeding at the Hefei Intermediate Court, there was no jury to get hung up on the nuances of her case, no defense counsel to cross-examine witnesses -- in fact hardly any witnesses at all. The evidence was presented in the form of prepared statements, with the exception of forensic evidence showing that businessman Neil Heywood was poisoned.
At the end of the session, a court official held a news conference at a nearby hotel to announce Gu, 54, a lawyer and wife of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, and a co-defendant, Zhang Xiaojun, 33, the family’s butler, had confessed to killing Heywood.
"The defendants did not dispute the accusation of intentional homicide,” deputy director of the court Tang Yigan told foreign reporters, who had been kept from the courthouse, waiting in the rain behind a police cordon.
The 41-year-old Heywood, a long-time family friend, was found dead Nov. 15 in a hotel room in Chongqing, the central Chinese city where Gu's husband was Communist Party secretary. Reading a prepared statement, Tang said Gu had invited Heywood to visit her in Chongqing with the intention of killing him because of a financial dispute.
At the hotel, she and Heywood drank. After getting drunk and vomiting, Heywood requested water. The two defendants had spiked it with poison in advance and poured it into Heywood’s mouth, authorities said.
“All the facts are clear and the evidence sufficient,” Tang stated.
Although Heywood’s body was promptly cremated, one of the police officials involved had taken a blood sample in advance. And closed-circuit video footage also showed Gu going into the hotel room where the body was discovered.
Gu was taken into custody in March, under a form of extrajudicial detention known as shuanggui, which is reserved for Communist Party members and officials. Although her family and Zhang’s both hired defense lawyers, they were not permitted to meet with them and the lawyers were not in court. Instead, both were assigned court-appointed lawyers.
Despite Gu’s reported confession, a formal verdict has yet to be delivered by the court and Tang did not say when they would take place. Under the Chinese legal system, the sentence is handed down at the same time.
Chinese law carries the death penalty for premeditated murder, but there are hints she will be spared, with the blame increasingly placed on Heywood. The prepared statement Thursday said Gu believed “Heywood physically endangered the physical safety of her son.”
Heywood had lived in China for nearly two decades and was married to a Chinese woman, with whom he had two children. His and Gu’s families were close and he had helped her son, 24-year-old Bo Guagua, get into his own alma mater, the prestigious Harrow boarding school in London.
The exact nature of the spat is unclear. Chinese investigators have been probing allegations that Gu sent millions of dollars of possibly illegal earnings abroad through Heywood and other foreign businessmen.
Heywood, some suggest, was not being well-paid and threatened to blow the whistle on Gu and her son, who was living in expensive apartments abroad and seen driving luxury cars.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: This video image taken from CCTV shows Gu Kailai, second from left, being taken into the Intermediate People's Court in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press