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2 Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach

2 Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach

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3.2  Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach


Shandong Province and lived well there since her disappearance. During the interrogation, the female body was identified as SHE Xianglin’s wife solely due to

the probable similarities between the cadaver and the missing ZHANG Zaiyu in

height and the fact that the victim was estimated to have been killed at around the

same time that ZHANG Zaiyu had disappeared.

Although SHE Xianglin attempted to recant his false and coerced confession

at trial, there was no disclosure of state evidence. SHE Xianglin was also denied

access to counsel before his case was submitted to the trial court, and he was

not permitted to cross-examination the prosecution witnesses in court, contrary

to legal requirements. SHE Xianglin declined to testify at trial that he had killed

his wife, which was totally inconsistent with his prior oral confession of guilt,

extorted by police torture during the preliminary inquiries. But unfortunately, the

judges ignored his potential innocence and even assumed that his repeated recantation of his oral confession was related to chicaneries from the bad attitude of the


While Case SHE Xianglin was pending, NIE Leping, the deputy secretary of

the Party branch at the Yaoling village, issued a Letter on “Conscience Proof”

to SHE Xianglin’s mother, on December 30, 1994. The letter stated that “[M]y

village members at the eighth group, NIE Xinhai, NIE Boqing, LI Qingzhi, NIE

Xiaoren, et al., in mid-October found a mentally ill woman, about 30 years of age,

with Jingshan accent, about 1.5 m tall… her surname ZHANG as she said, having a six-year-old girl at home, lost on the way to visiting relatives, whose mental

situation is basically same to the statement by SHE’s mother and who disappeared

after staying and living two days and one night at NIE Xinhua’s home”. The letter was stamped with the seal of the “Yaoling Village Branch committee of the

Chinese Communist Party, at Shihe Town of Tianmen City”. SHE’s mother submitted this letter to the relevant authorities as evidence of his factual innocence.

Unfortunately, the authorities ignored the letter. Worse, SHE Xianglin’s innocent and kind mother was illegally arrested and falsely accused of the crime of

covering up convicts in 1995.4 When she was released from the Detention Center

of the Jingshan County Public Security Bureau after nine-and-a-half-months, the

rural woman, originally in good health, was deaf, blind, and unable to walk. Three

months after her release, SHE Xianglin’s mother passed away at the age of 54.

Also, his younger brother was detained for 41 days in 1995, only because of his

constant appeals against SHE Xianglin’s conviction. The whole family of NIE

Leping, who issued the letter to SHE Xianglin’s mother, suffered for NIE’s

actions: NIE’s wife was suddenly locked in the Detention Center; NIE and his son

escaped, staying away for three months until police stopped looking for them.

Other villagers mentioned in the letter were also sent to police stations.

4See SHE Xianglin who were detained for 3995 days are expected to obtain state compensation for RMB 220,000 [she xianlin bei jiya sanjiu jiuwu tian yuji kehuo ershi erwang guojia

peichang], CHINA [zhonghua wang] (8 April, 2005), available at: http://news.china.com/zh_cn/



3  The Similar Causes of Wrongful Convictions

The media reported that SHE Xianglin’s lawyer at the first-instance trial, who

had been badly paid by SHE’s family, never conducted any independent investigation into the involved case, mainly because there was very little time to prepare the

defense at trial of the first instance.5 Worse, the defence lawyer even believed that

SHE was partly guilty of a misdemeanor and that the court would not wrongly

convict the accused. Thus, SHE was not well represented at the trial in the first

instance or at his first appeal to the Higher People’s Court (HPC) in the second

instance, for his lawyer did not mention crucial legal errors in former judgements,

especially the fact that SHE’s oral and false confession was extorted by police

investigators. Had these fundamental errors been mentioned during the initial trial

or appeal, the wrongful conviction of SHE Xianglin would have been prevented.

In 1995, the Higher People’s Court (HPC) of Hubei Province did overturn the

first-instance judgment and remanded the case back to the Intermediate People’s

Court (IPC) for a retrial because of ‘unclear facts and insufficient evidence’ brought

forward by the prosecution which influenced judgements and sentences.6 This decision has been officially accepted as correct, but that the HPC chose not to revise the

judgment, which led to delayed remedies for a wrongful conviction. In fact, the case

was not referred back to the local IPC as the first-instance court, but to the Basic

People’s Court (BPC) against law in order to avoid the HPC’s review or overturning.

During a retrial, another of SHE Xianglin’s lawyers also unsuccessfully argued

that SHE was innocent, given that SHE should not be convicted of murder solely

on the basis of his oral and false confession of guilt. The case was left pending

in the first instance at retrial and the wrongful conviction could not be prevented

or corrected in time. SHE’s appeal of his wrongful conviction was unanimously

dismissed by a three-judge panel of the IPC and his further appeal was denied by

the subsequent authorities, despite sufficient evidence of his factual innocence that

was proffered from witnesses. Given that indirect evidence could not form a complete circle of causal relationships and a lack of direct evidence failed to suffice

for his murder, courts should not have convicted him and should have acquitted

him. Even so, his wrongful conviction cannot acquit him immediately after the

“dead” victim returned back alive, but until the court retrial two weeks later. The Wrongful Conviction of TENG Xingshan

The second case is that of the 1988 conviction of the innocent TENG Xingshan,

who was wrongly executed 18 years before his judicial exoneration in 2006. In

5See Wang Gang, The ‘Case Facts’ of SHE Xianglin Reflecting Defects for Chinese Judicial

Reform on the Way Again [she xianlin anqing zheshe quehan zhongguo sifa gaige zaici shanglu],

CHINA NEWS WEEKLY [zhongguo xinwen zhoukai] (25 April, 2005), available at: http://www.


6Li Guoqing and Chen Quan’an, the HPC of Hubei Province Strictly Control the standards to

avoid the innocence She Xianglin from wrongful execution, China Court Net, April 1, 2005,

available at: http://old.chinacourt.org/public/detail.php?id=156583.

3.2  Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach


this case, the dismembered body of a woman was found on April 27, 1987 in the

Jinjiang River, at Ma Zhongyang County, Hunan Province. The local police officers, through an investigation into missing persons and identification by family

members and blood typing, confirmed that the deceased was SHI Xiaorong from

Guizhou, who had worked in the local Plaza Emporium but had been missing for

a month. The local police, based on to the tactics that the murderer used to mutilate the corpse, detained the local butcher, TENG Xingshan, as the suspect of SHI

Xiaorong’s murder. On December 6, 1987, police investigators sent TENG to an

asylum for review. After several months, TENG finally “confessed” to killing SHI

under police torture during forced interrogations. His false and coerced confession, such that he had been in love with SHI and killed her after a lover’s quarrel,

was followed by his prosecution in 1988.

Some doubts regarding the evidence provided by the prosecution were identified by TENG Xingshan’s defence lawyer. For example, the police found that

TENG Xingshan smothered the victim by hand and dismembered her body, but the

autopsy report on “the zygomatic fractures of the deceased” showed that her death

could not have been caused by smothering. Similarly, there was no human blood

on an ax that the police alleged had been used by TENG Xingshan for dismembering the dead body. Expert conclusions on photographic superimposition also

showed that the body’s skull did not match with SHI Xiaorong’s photos in some of

major respects.

Moreover, the lawyer obtained some exculpatory evidence from a hydroelectric

power station of Hunan Province, and from local ferry boatmen. The powerstation

issued a certificate stating that: “it heavily rained in Mayang, to raise water in the

Jinjiang River, in late April 1987 when the only low-flow paths that TENG

Xingshan can pass from his living Malan village to ‘the murder scene’ on the

Malan island, had been completely submerged in the flood”.7 According to

TENG’s lawyer, this removed all possibility that TENG had committed the crime

as identified by investigators. Similarly, ferry boatmen who saw the body parts at

the scene of this island upstream can remove the body. They stated that normally,

an object floats in the water, drifting only from upstream to downstream, and the

body would never drift upstream if TENG murdered a person there.

However, the answer from investigators to these doubts was that: “it is not you

to have the final say, the government is certainly not wrong!” All of the lawyer’s

efforts were ignored by the judges and failed to change TENG Xingshan’s ultimate

fate. This case clearly demonstrates a lack of effective protection in the system for

investigating evidence and for the introduction of exculpatory evidence into proceedings. Even with many doubts, TENG Xingshan was found guilty and the

death sentence was imposed by the IPC of Huaihua District. All appeals were

7“The victim still alive, The executed peasant’s family to seek justice” [Beihai ren reng zaishi

bei qiangjue nongmin de jiaren yutao gongdao], Democracy and legal System Times [minzhu

yu fazhi shibao] (13 Feb., 2006) available at: http://www.xinhuanet.com/chinanews/2006-02/13/



3  The Similar Causes of Wrongful Convictions

dismissed and the Hunan Provincial HPC upheld the original verdict in January

1989. On 28 January 1989, a factually innocent TENG Xingshan was wrongly

executed by means of shooting.8

But four years later, in 1993, the ‘dead’ victim SHI Xiaorong came back home

alive. In fact, SHI’s disappearance resulted from her having been trafficked to

Shandong Province by others. Also, SHI never knew TENG or had any relationship with him, but was shocked to hear about TENG’s death. She explicitly asked

the local court to revoke the wrongful conviction based around their “ambiguous relationship” and her “having been killed”. ‘TENG’ family never petitioned

against his conviction because they were too poor to afford an appeal. In June

2005 when TENG’s children grew up and found a job, they formally appealed

to the HPC of Hunan Province to reverse their father’s wrongful conviction. The

HPC eventually reviewed it and decided to acquit the wrongly executed TENG on

January 18, 2006 through a retrial process. The Wrongful Conviction of ZHAO Zuohai

ZHAO Zuohai, a 57 year farmer in Henan Province, was arrested in 1999 and convicted of murder in 2002 for killing a fellow villager, who had disappeared after a

fight with ZHAO in 1997.9 ZHAO Zuohai consistently denied killing the ‘victim’

before prosecutors and judges. His court-appointed legal counsel, who was not a

fully-qualified lawyer, attempted to question the prosecutor about ‘unclear facts

and insufficient evidence’ and defend his client’s innocence against the allegations

of intentional killing in court.10 Trial judges, however, ignored such arguments and

his affirmative defence, concluding by convicting ZHAO Zuohai of murder and

imposing the death penalty with a reprieve. The judges’ decision was based on

ZHAO’s confession, which had been extracted under police torture, along with the

existence of a headless, decomposed corpse which was uncertainly identified as

the victim’s dead body.11

8See “The victim of a murder case that occurred eighteen years ago is still alive, hundreds of

people claimed innocence in executing the suspect” [shiba nianqian de suishi an beihai ren reng

huozhe xianfan bei qiangjue bairen hanyuan], Chinese Businessman Net—Chinese Businessman

Times [huashang wang huangshang bao] (16 June 2005), available at: http://www.xinhuanet.


9See “Misjudged case of Zhao Zuohai Being Solved, the HPC Setting up 9 May as ‘A Warning

Day’”, Henan Daily [henan ribao], Dahe Net [dehe wang], available at: http://www.dahe.cn/


10See Shi Yu, “Driven Miscarriages of Justice”, Southern City Newspaper [nanfang chengshi

xinwen] (May 19, 2010), available at: http://gcontent.oeeee.com/1/e3/1e328ebc91246864/Blog/


11See Elizabeth M. Lynch, “When the Murder Victim Turns Up Alive—Will Justice Be

Served?”, china law and policy (July 21, 2010), available at: http://chinalawandpolicy.com/tag/


3.2  Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach


The main evidence at trial against ZHAO Zuohai came from his oral confessions of murder during coerced interrogation, when he had to admit that the cause

of the alleged victim’s death was intentional killing and even asked for his wife’s

help to obtain his own parent’s bones to use as a stand-in for those of the murder

victim so as to confirm his guilt.12 ZHAO Zuohai without any education or much

experience, did not provide medical evidence to challenge this testimony and

prove his factual innocence, but instead denied his guilt at the trial and argued that

his confession was the result of over one month of police torture.13 During interrogation, ZHAO Zuohai was beaten with a stick, deprived of sleep and food except

for chili water14 and had firecrackers set off over his head.15 His wife was detained

and beaten in order to admit to witnessing his crime.16 She was also forced to

identify the body as the ‘victim’s’, necessary for the prosecution’s case.17

In the course of investigating the murder case, the police discovered some

evidence of ZHAO Zuohai’s innocence. First, they suspected that ZHAO Zuohai

was the culprit because his disputes and fight with the alleged ‘dead’ victim,

Zhenxiang, gave him a motive to commit murder. Of course, if the body of the

deceased was identified as not being that of the victim Zhenxiang, the prosecution’s case would have fallen apart. The police who found the corpse without head

in the scene during investigation inferred that the body’s height was 1.70 m, but

the missing victim Zhenxiang was only 1.65 m tall. This difference in height of

5 cm goes beyond the normal range of errors in the estimation method used, and

hence investigators should have considered the possibility that the dead body did

not belong to the alleged victim Zhenxiang.

Second, the police commissioned a technical department to conduct DNA identification but, despite trying four times, the technical department was unable to

confirm that the body was Zhenxiang’s. The investigators, intentionally or unintentionally, ignored this evidence of potential innocence and proceeded to the trial

proceedings based on ZHAO Zhuhai’s confessions. His false and coerced confessions to murder also implied that he was probably innocent. For example, it would

12See People’s opinion: What did make Case Zhao Zuohai misjudged?, 11 May 2010, People

Net, available at: http://opinion.people.com.cn/GB/11569658.html; also See Shi Yu, Driven

Miscarriages of Justice, 2010-05-19, Southern City Newspaper, available at: http://gcontent.


13See Wang Jingqiong and Li Yuefeng, Murder convict set free after ‘victim’ turns up, 2010-0510, China Daily, available at: www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-05/10/content_9826537.htm;

also See Zhao Zuohai gains 120,000 yuan extra, Shanghai Daily, May 19, 2010, available at:


14Elizabeth M. Lynch, When the Murder Victim Turns Up Alive—Will Justice Be Served? 21

July 2010, available at: http://chinalawandpolicy.com/tag/zhao-zuohai/.

15Zuo Likun, “‘Killer’ jailed for 10 yrs; then victim returns”, China Daily, May 7th, 2010.

16See Clifford Coonan, “Zhao Zuohai: Beaten, framed and jailed for a murder that never happened”, (14 May 2010), available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/zhao-zuohai-beaten-framed-and-jailed-for-a-murder-that-never-happened-1973042.html.

17See Wang Jingqiong and Li Yuefeng, Murder convict set free after ‘victim’ turns up, 2010-0510, China Daily, available at: www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-05/10/content_9826537.htm.


3  The Similar Causes of Wrongful Convictions

have been impossible for him to push the heavy stone that villagers found crushing

the body into the well where it was found. Investigators never found the missing

parts of the weapon or some of the missing parts of the body. These discrepancies in ZHAO Zuohai’s confessions appeared to show that he never even knew the

whereabouts of the missing weapon or the body’s head.

Regrettably, the local police still assumed ZHAO Zuohai’s guilt based on his

confessions and ignored any evidence of his factual innocence when handling the

murder case. In 2002, the People’s Procuratorate of Shangxiu City prosecuted

him on the charge of murder, and later the Shangxiu IPC convicted him of murder

and sentenced him to death with a suspension of execution in the first instance. In

2003, the HPC of Henan Province approved his death sentence after final review.

Even though he had been given a suspended death sentence for a murder that

never happened, ZHAO Zuohai withdrew his appeal of the conviction and never

complained to other authorities. His decision not to do so was based not only on the

fact that his assertion that he did not kill the ‘victim’ had been dismissed at trial and

he lacked the confidence or the courage to seek judicial relief while in jail, but also

because he was afraid that the death penalty with immediate execution or further

torture might be applied. On May 9, 2010, after the alleged ‘victim’ returned alive,

ZHAO Zuohai was finally proven to be factually innocent and was judicially exonerated by the Henan HPC at a retrial where fresh factual evidence was considered.18 Summary

As demonstrated above, three innocents were wrongly convicted of serious crimes

that never in fact happened, and were further sentenced to a severe punishment.

SHE Xianglin and TENG Xingshan were convicted under the 1979 CPL, and

ZHAO Zuohai under the 1996 CPL. Clearly, the alleged victims were still alive

and their sudden disappearance could not have been the result of murder.

The fact is that in Case SHE Xianglin, his wife ran away from home without

telling anyone, which does not result from his fault or illegal offence, much less

than murder. In Case TENG Xingshan, he never knew the alleged victim SHI

Xiaorong or to whom dead body actually belonged. SHI Xiaorong was actually

forced to disappear by other criminals and was not killed by the innocent TENG.

In Case ZHAO Zuohai, it was the alleged victim, ZHAO Zuohai’s fellow villager,

Zhengxiang that made attacked ZHAO Zuohai one night and afterwards left home

to avoid taking any legal responsibility for his actions. But in such cases, what the

authorities had found for the convictions was exactly contrary to the true facts.

The above tragedies were allowed to occur because flawed evidence of crimes

had been illegally obtained by police torture and was incorrectly used by judges

18See “For Misjudged case of Zhao Zuohai Being Solved, the HPC Setting up 9 May as ‘A

Warning Day’” [zhi zhao zhuohai mengyuan suishi an gaopo sheng fayuan jiang wuyue jiuri shewei jingshi ri], Henan Daily, Dahe Net [henan ribao dahe wang], available at: http://www.dahe.


3.2  Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach


to convict and sentence the innocent to death. The three innocent convicts should

not have had to suffer any ill-treatment at the hands of policemen or confess to any

crime. Regrettably, the Chinese justice system failed to effectively protect them

from torture as the law required, but wrongfully penalized them for persisting in

claiming their factual innocence. Even their families or fellow villagers were punished helping them claim innocence. If the three men had been able to withstand

torture and not confess to murder, or they had been willing to confess to a lesser

crime, each of them might have spent much less time in jail.

Before 2010, there was no exclusionary rule to exclude illegally obtained evidence from being used at trial, and it was not rare to use false and coerced confessions for conviction in practice. Investigators would only risk illegally torturing

suspects if the resulting confessions could be used at trial. The accused who suffered police torture often failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the fact

that torture had occurrence. Also, defence counsel cannot function properly to help

the accused prove factual innocence. Normally, it was very hard to successfully

prosecute any policemen for extorting confessions by torture, unlike in the highprofile ZHAO Zuohai case.19 As the official media People’s Daily duly noted, such

typical convictions are actually ‘far from being exceptional under China’s flawed

criminal justice’ and call its whole justice system into question.20

3.2.2 A Study of Five New Wrongful Conviction Cases

Similar to the above three high-profile cases of wrongful convictions, which were

officially identified in China before 2010, five new ones that were judicially rectified in 2013 also resulted from common flaws essentially, albeit with diverse

forms. Although the adversarial system in the 1996 CPL was implemented to

prevent such convictions better than the inquisitorial one in the 1979 CPL, the

improved law often failed to be fully implemented so as not to prevent them in

practice. By the law, further innocents were convicted in new cases. They will be

studied as follows. The Wrongful Convictions of Uncle and Nephew ZHANG

The 2004 wrongful convictions of uncle and nephew ZHANG relate to the charges

of rape and murder, which were laid after the suspects were forced to confess. In

2003, two truck drivers, uncle and nephew ZHANG, allowed a fellow village girl

19See Niu Yahao, “Six policemen have been prosecuted over the Case of ZHAO Zuohai extorted

confession by torture” [zhao zuohai zao xingxun bigong an liuming jingcha bei qisu], (14 July

2010), available at: http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2010-07-14/111320676179.shtml.

20“Hubei Man Convicted of Wife’s Murder Ten Years Ago Exonerated”, CECC (April 8, 2005),

available at: http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=9796.


3  The Similar Causes of Wrongful Convictions

to hitch a ride upon request21 and dropped her off in Hangzhou at night. Her naked

body was found nearby the next morning. The two men were wrongly identified

by the local police as the last ones to see the victim alive and as the main suspects.

In fact, there was a DNA identification result that fully excluded the possibility that DNA found under the victim’s fingernails belonged to either of the

ZHANGs. The police ignored this evidence of innocence in order to convict the

ZHANGs of rape or murder, even though there was no physical evidence of their

guilt whatsoever. Also, they did not check the video recordings taken by a camera

at a highway toll gate which showed their truck leaving the scene earlier than the

occurrence of the rape. Both uncle and nephew ZHANG who drove their truck full

of goods away could have been ruled out from suspicion as they were not at the

crime scene, but they were forced to follow instructions and give accounts of their

guilt against the facts, under the pressure of torture from the police and another


As a spokesman of the Zhejiang HPC said, police investigators did instruct

another inmate at the detention center to force both ZHANG Gaoping and

ZHANG Hui to confess committing crimes, a task he carried out by violent

means. The spokesman also admitted that coerced confessions obtained under torture were actually a direct reason for their wrongful convictions. After seven days

and nights continuous interrogations by coercive techniques, ZHANG Gaoping

confessed to killing the victim girl with a hammer, but in fact she died of suffocation. Later, he and his nephew ZHANG Hui were detained in the center with

jailhouse bullies put there by police investigators. The innocent uncle and nephew

ZHANG suffered from the bullies’ beating when they refused to produce written

copies of their oral confessions, and finally had to follow their instructions.

Even with a third person’s DNA traces in the victims’ fingernails, without the

accused being present at the time the crime was committed, and despite the lack of

a clear crime scene, both ZHANGs were convicted of rape in 2004, mainly based

on their oral confessions obtained under torture. Also, ZHANG Hui and ZHANG

Gaoping were respectively sentenced to death with immediate execution and life

imprisonment by the Hangzhou IPC. At appeal, the Zhejiang HPC maintained

their convictions and only reduced their sentences to the death penalty with a suspension of execution and fifteen years’ imprisonment.

Evidence of their factual innocence was finally used after the real murder’s

appearance, brought about based on DNA comparison. In 2005, ZHANG Gaoping

reported a very likely murderer, GOU Haifeng, to the prison authorities who were

reviewing his wrongful conviction. In 2010, his family asked for a lawyer’s help,

who had successfully defended his client’s innocence in a similar wrongful conviction involving an inmate witness, YUAN Lianfang, who assisted the police to

extort or trap confessions. The same inmate testified against both ZHANGs and

also provided false witness testimonies. With the help of a lawyer and a Xinjiang

21See Liu Dong, “Efficient injustice”, Global Times (31 March, 2013), available at: http://www.


3.2  Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach


prosecutor, the HPC retried the ZHANGs case in 2011 and found that the DNA

traces under the victim’s fingernail matched GOU Haifeng’s DNA. GOU Haifeng

was executed in 2005. The Wrongful Convictions in the Five Youths Case

In 1995, two taxi drivers were consecutively killed during the course of robberies in Xiaoshan of Zhejiang Province. After preliminary investigations, the local

police obtained certain witness testimonies and oral confessions from someone

involved at the crime scene. In 1996, five youths, namely CHEN Jianyang, TIAN

Weidong, ZHU Youping, WANG Jianping and TIAN Xiaoping, were detained at

the Xiaoshan Detention Center as the suspects in the robbery case. In fact, most of

them never knew what happened and why the police had arrested them until their

judicial exonerations.

Even with many doubts in this case, the five youths were still convicted of robbery in 1997, mainly based on evidence of guilt that did not accord with facts and

even though the prosecution did not form a complete chain of evidence. Most of

the five claimed their factual innocence at trial or in appeal. There was also some

clear evidence of their innocence. For instance, the real robber drove away after

killing one victim taxi driver in each case of the two events involved, but none of

the five suspects were able to drive a car at the time the crime was committed.

Facing such evidence, courts failed to overturn their wrongful convictions before

the real robber’s appearance. Upon appeal, courts only changed some of their

death sentences in the second instance. In 2007, CHEN Jianyang, TIAN Weidong

and WANG Jianping’s sentences were reduced to the death penalty with a suspension of execution. This penalty was also imposed on ZHU Youping without

changes then. TIAN Xiaoping never appealed against his life imprisonment that

the first-instance court wrongly sentenced to him, and was finally changed to

three-year imprisonment at a retrial.22

However, XIANG Shengyuan was the real robber and killer in the case, whose

fingerprint matched that of the victim XU Caihua found at the scene, i.e., on

the death victim’s car, as the Hangzhou police discovered in 2011. The wrongful convictions of the five youths directly resulted from false witness testimonies

or coerced oral confessions. TIAN Xiaoping, as the first arrested among the five

youths, stated that he framed two of the other four by himself and followed police

officers’ orders to falsely accuse the other two. Thus, CHEN Jianyang who even

did not confess his crimes under coerced interrogations was wrongly convicted

of robbery. The other four innocents were forced to confess crimes purely under

police torture, immediately or directly causing wrongful convictions.

22See Retrial of 1995 robbery, theft cases opens in E China, Xinhua (26 June 2013), available at:



3  The Similar Causes of Wrongful Convictions

For example, CHEN Jianyang stated that the Xiaoshan police arrested him on

November 28, 1995, and since then he had been continuously interrogated for two

or three days. During interrogations, the police even slapped, punched, kicked him

and hung him up so that he could notlift up his left shoulder after being tortured.

ZHU Youping claimed to have been stripped naked and made to stand before rotating fans in winter. WANG Jianping suffered from police’s “beating, water spray,

electric batons… hundreds of slaps, being punished to kneel down, not to sleep”

and from being hung up by handcuffs for a long time during coerced interrogations.23 Also, TIAN Weidong was severely tortured by police officers “with electric batons, cuffing, kicking” and through “dipping his head in toilets” to extort

confessions so that he could not stand it but tried to commit suicide by hitting a

wall with his head and biting off part of his tongue.24 The Wrongful Conviction of LI Huailiang

In 2001, a female villager, GUO Xiaomeng, was killed in central China’s Henan

Province. The police detained and arrested another farmer, LI Huailiang, who happened to appear beside the crime scene on the same night, as a suspect of the murder case. During interrogations, the local “police beat him with a chain to

confess”.25 At trial, he withdrew his confessions and revealed that they were

extorted under police torture. But in 2003, the Ye County Basic People’s Court

(BPC) still convicted him of murder and sentenced him to fifteen years’ imprisonment, on the basis that oral confessions coincided with circumstances at the scene,

that villagers witnessed his visit to the scene, and that two of his fellow inmates

heard his statement of murder. Later, the Pingdingshan IPC overturned the original

verdict with a conviction and referred the case back to the BPC for retrial.

In 2004, the BPC retried the case and then referred it to the IPC for trial in

the first instance. The IPC concluded by convicting LI Huiliang of murder and

sentencing him to death in August. Upon appeal, the HPC overturned the IPC’s

conviction and referred the case for retrial in 2005. In 2006, the IPC maintained

LI Huailiang’s conviction and changed his original sentences to the death penalty

with a suspension of execution. The HPC overturned the sentence and referred

the case back for retrial again on the same grounds. After that, LI Huailiang was

detained without any hearing till his exoneration at retrial in 2013.


Liu Chang and Liao Ying, “Replaying the Murder Case of Five Youths from Xiaoshan of

Zhejiang: ‘The Real Murderer’ Reappearance Testing the Criminal Procedure Law” [zhengjiang

xiaoshan wu qingnian sharen an fupan zhenxiong zaixian kaoxian xingsufa], Southern Weekend

[nanfang zhoumo] (24 January 2013), available at: http://www.infzm.com/content/85694.


25See China, “Innocent man freed after 12 years in prison”, SHANGHAI DAILY (27 April

2013), available at: http://www.china.org.cn/china/2013-04/27/content_28674800.htm.

3.2  Wrongful Convictions in China: A Case Study Approach


Given the lack of insufficient evidence of his guilt, LI Huailiang’s confessions

extorted by torture were used by courts as the main evidence to convict him and

sentence him to death at trial and in appeal. In May 2004, the Pingdingshan IPC

signed the “death penalty guarantee” with the victim’s parents to promise sentencing LI Huailiang to death, in order to prevent the victim’s mother from continuing

her appeals to higher authorities. But in fact, even after LI Huailiang was detained

for over ten years, both parties of the case still constantly appealed to the


There remained so many obvious doubts that no available evidence could prove

LI Huailiang to be guilty. Two inmate witnesses of his statement of murder are

not reliable because courts never allowed them to testify in court. Police investigators found that the footprints at the crime scene were Size 38, different from LI

Huailiang’s Size 44. The footprints identified at the crime scene were from sandals, unlike his footprints from cloth shoes with flat bases. Similarly, the blood

type of bloodstains collected from the scene was type “O”, different from his and

the victim’s blood type, “A”. It was found by the police that the sperm inside the

victim’s body was also not LI Huailiang’s.

Moreover, LI Hualiang’s oral confessions that led to his conviction in court

were false and against facts. He stated that the victim wore “a trouser and short

sleeves”, whereas she actually had “a skirt and sandals”. The victim’s mother did

see strangers passing by from the direction of the crime scene. Such facts cannot

exclude the possibility that a third person committed crimes. In April 2013, the

IPC eventually acquitted LI Huailiang through retrial based on facts and law. The Wrongful Conviction of CHEN Keyun

In 2001, a bomb in a parcel exploded and killed a party agency driver when he

touched the parcel at the gate of a Petition Reception Office in Fuqing City. The

local police focused on those being investigated by the Commission for Discipline

Inspection and having explosion skills as suspects. The first suspect of the explosion case was CHEN Keyun, a manager of a state-owned labour recruiter then

operating in Fuqing, who was investigated by the Commission for financial problems. Given this background, CHEN Keyun and his driver WU Changlong became

the focus of police investigators.

As WU Changlong stated, they handcuffed his hands in a window, took turns

imposing corporal punishment on him, recorded his oral confessions, and deprived

him of sleep, regular meals or the opportunity to urinate outside of his cell during over

one hundred days’ of coerced interrogations. WU Changlong repeatedly told them,

26See Mu Xuequan, “Innocent man detained for 12 years files compensation claim”, XINHUA (3

June 2013), available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-06/03/c_124805885.htm.

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