Aug 20 2012
The wife of a fallen Chinese politician has been given a suspended death sentence after confessing to killing British businessman Neil Heywood in a case that rocked the country's political leadership.
A suspended sentence is usually commuted to life in prison after several years.
He Zhengsheng, a lawyer for Mr Heywood, said Gu Kailai was given the suspended death sentence by the court in Hefei and a family aide was jailed for nine years for his part in the killing of the former Bo family associate.
But questions remain over the fate of Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, who was dismissed in March as party secretary of the major city of Chongqing. The murder trial comes at a sensitive time in China with a handover soon of power to younger leaders.
Mr He said he had to discuss the verdict with the Heywood family and did not know if they would lodge an appeal. "We respect the court's ruling today. Thank you all for your concern," he said.
State media says Gu confessed to intentional homicide at a one-day trial in the eastern city of Hefei on August 9 under heavy guard. The reports - the court has been closed to international media - say she and Mr Heywood had a dispute over money and Mr Heywood allegedly threatened her son. The family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, also confessed after being charged as an accessory.
Security was tight outside the court. Police officers stood guard around the building. At least a half dozen SWAT police vans were parked on each corner, some of them carrying plainclothes security. The main road in front of the entrance was blocked by traffic cones.
Any ruling in the Gu case was politically delicate and Chinese leaders may have decided to impose a lengthy prison term instead of death for fear that a more severe penalty might stir outrage or make Gu look like a scapegoat for her husband's misdeeds, political and legal analysts say. "If you execute her, what about Bo Xilai? You should also execute Bo Xilai, because when the story becomes fully known, it's highly likely that people will think that she was just a scapegoat for the whole thing," Cheng Li, an expert in Chinese elite politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, said before the verdict.
Gu's arrest and the ousting of her husband sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989.
The official Xinhua News Agency has depicted Gu as a depressed woman on medication who turned wilful murderer after Mr Heywood threatened the safety of her son, Bo Guagua. Gu is accused of luring Mr Heywood to a Chongqing hotel, getting him drunk and then pouring cyanide into his mouth.