Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Confessed" killer released from prison when victim resurfaces after 10 years

Prison barsImage by Ken_Mayer via Flickr

A recent case of exoneration in China is yet another example of the utter worthlessness of most confessions. As explained in a Reuters article, 10 years after an alleged killer supposedly confessed to the murder of another man, the murder "victim" unexpectedly reappeared--alive--in his hometown. 10 years prior, Zhao Zuohai was accused of murdering the "victim" following the discovery of a headless corpse in the small Chinese town. Zuohai was interrogated by police and purportedly confessed that he'd killed the "victim" during the course of a hatchet fight. Zuohai claims that the confession occurred only after he was tortured by police, an apparently common practice in China, as explained in the article:
Convictions in the Chinese court system are strongly dependent on confessions, motivating police to use force to get a confession and close the case...

The courts conducted an audit of all death penalty cases after a woman in Hubei province reappeared over a decade after her husband, She Xianglin, was jailed for her murder, in a case that also rested on his confession to police.

Relatives who maintained She's innocence were also jailed.

The imprisoned Zhao's brother told the local Dahe Newspaper that police had forced him to drink chili water and set off fireworks over his head to force the confession.

The imprisoned Zhao narrowly escaped being executed for the crime. His sentence was commuted from a death penalty with two years' reprieve.

When the victim reappeared, Zuohai's conviction was reversed and he was released from custody after serving 10 years of a 29-year sentence. While he was incarcerated, his wife left him for another man and 3 of his 4 children were put up for adoption. Surprisingly, this unfortunate case reminds me of a lawyer joke I heard a while back:
A noted criminal defense lawyer was making his closing argument for his client accused of murder, although the body of the victim had never been found. The lawyer dramatically turned to the courtroom's clock and, pointing to it, announced, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have some astounding news. I have found the supposed victim of this murder to be alive! In just ten seconds, she will walk through the door of this courtroom." A heavy quiet suddenly fell over the courtroom as everyone waited for the dramatic entry. But nothing happened. The lawyer continued, "The mere fact that you were watching the door, expecting the victim to walk into this courtroom, is clear proof that you have far more than even a reasonable doubt as to whether a murder was actually committed." Tickled with the impact of his cleverness, the lawyer confidently sat down to await acquittal. The jury was instructed, filed out, and filed back in just ten minutes with a guilty verdict. When the judge brought the proceedings to an end, the dismayed lawyer chased after the jury foreman: "Guilty? How could you convict? You were all watching the door!" "Well," the foreman explained, "Most of us were watching the door. But one of us was watching the defendant, and he wasn't watching the door."
Except in this case, Mr. Zuohai would have looked toward the door, innocent man that he was. This case is not unusual. Innocent people are wrongfully convicted of crimes due to forced, false confessions every day across the United States and worldwide. And, like Zhuohai, if and when they are ultimately exonerated, their lives are in shambles, ruined by the overzealous--and arguably criminal--actions of police officers using unlawful and cruel tactics to force confessions from innocent people. Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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