The secretive trial of Gu Kailai and a household aide, who are accused of murdering Bo family associate Neil Heywood in the south-western megacity, ended in less than a day at the Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern city of Hefei.
The defendants did not contest the murder charges; a guilty verdict at a later date is all but assured and could carry a death sentence.
The tightly orchestrated court proceeding marks a step toward resolving the messiest scandal the Communist leadership has faced in two decades.
Bo Xilai, was one of China’s most powerful and charismatic politicians until he was ousted in the spring as the scandal surrounding Heywood’s death unfolded. Observers say the party’s main objective is to keep the focus tightly on the case and not on larger allegations of corruption that could further taint the regime.
International media were barred from the courtroom, so details of the case against Gu were provided afterward by Tang Yigan, the court’s deputy director.
He said prosecutors told the court that Gu sent her aide, Zhang Xiaojun, to meet and accompany Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing, where Bo was the Communist Party boss.
Gu and Heywood were business associates but had had a dispute over economic interests, according to Tang, whose account matched details from the indictment reported by the official Xinhua News Agency several weeks ago.
Gu thought Heywood was a threat to her son, Bo Guagua, and decided to have him killed, said Tang, who did not specify what threat Heywood posed.
On the night of Nov 13, Gu went to Heywood’s hotel and drank alcohol and tea with him.
“When Heywood was drunk and vomited and wanted to drink water, she then took pre-prepared poison that she had asked Zhang Xiaojun to carry, and poured it into Heywood’s mouth, killing him,” Tang said.
Heywood’s friends and family have said he was never a heavy drinker, and they rejected investigators’ initial conclusion that he drank himself to death. His body was cremated and no autopsy was performed
Tang said the prosecutors believed the facts of the crime were clear and the evidence sufficient, and that “Gu Kailai is the main culprit and Zhang is the accomplice.”
Before yesterday, Gu, 53, had not been seen in months and never publicly offered her side of the story.
Video of the trial shown by state broadcaster CCTV showed a calm-looking Gu being led into court with a sheaf of papers in one hand. Both she and Zhang were not handcuffed.
Chinese officials agreed to let two British diplomats attend court, because of Heywood’s nationality, but the British Embassy in Beijing said it would offer no statement on what happened.
The quick trial contrasts those of many other countries, where high-profile murder cases can drag on for weeks, even months. But legal experts say it’s common in China, where even the verdict can be delivered the same day in death penalty cases.
“It’s very unusual for criminal trials (in China) to extend beyond a day,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights researcher based in Hong Kong who said trials are short in part because witness testimony is usually written.
“It’s very rare to see what you see in other countries, where a trial starts on one day and extends through many, many days. The process is very structured. A Chinese criminal trial is not a free-flowing process.”
In Gu’s trial, Tang said material evidence, written evidence, witness statements and other materials were presented.
He said Gu’s lawyer told the court that Heywood bore some responsibility for the cause of the crime, although he did not say why. The attorney also said Gu had “less than normal” control of her actions at the time of Heywood’s death, according to Tang, and that she had informed on the crimes of others. He did not say what those crimes were.
Security was tight around the courthouse, with police lines in front of each entrance and dozens of plainclothes security officers patrolling the streets.
Gu and Zhang are likely to be found guilty of intentional homicide, which carries punishment ranging from more than 10 years in jail to a life sentence or the death penalty. Announcing the indictment about two weeks ago, Xinhua made clear the government considers the verdict a foregone conclusion.