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Chinese Snack Shop Owner Sentenced to Death for Poisoning Deaths - 2002-09-30

A Chinese court has sentenced a snack shop owner to death for killing 38 people with poison. Many of the victims were school children.

Chen Zhengping was convicted of putting rat poison in the food at a rival restaurant in the eastern town of Tangshan. He has been sentenced to death. Chinese media reports say Chen confessed to committing the crime because he was jealous of the other shop's success.

Witnesses say victims collapsed, bleeding from the mouth and ears, after eating tainted fried dough sticks, sesame cakes, and sticky rice balls. About 300 people were made seriously ill, and at least 38 died.

The September 15 incident sparked a massive manhunt, and police captured Chen about 600 kilometers away as he tried to flee by train.

Death sentences in China are appealed automatically and executions are generally carried out immediately after a final appeal, which usually take only a few days. The condemned are generally killed by a bullet to the back of the head.

China has suffered poisoning attacks in the past, blamed on grudges or business rivalries. Last July a noodle shop owner in southern china was arrested on charges of dumping poison into soup made by a rival restaurant. Fifty-seven people became ill as a result.

Other poisonings are caused by unscrupulous restaurant owners trying to save money by using tainted foods or cheap industrial salts instead of table salt.

Officials say the poison in this most recent deadly case was a rat poison that has been banned for years in China, although it is still widely available from illegal producers.