China’s blockbuster murder trial of Gu Kailai, wife of ousted politician Bo Xilai, has ended after one day.
Court officials in the eastern city of Hefei gave no indication of when a verdict would be announced, but said Gu did not deny she was responsible for the murder of British business associate Neil Heywood.
Tang Yigan, spokesperson for the Hefei Intermediate Court, accused Gu of poisoning Heywood, with the help of her family’s butler, Zhang Xiaojun who is also on trial.
“On the evening of 13 November 2011, defendant Gu Kailai visited Neil Heywood in his hotel room,” Tang said. He said after Heywood got drunk and vomited, Gu poisoned him using poison that Zhang Xiaojun had brought.
The court spokesman said that Gu Kailai’s defense lawyer argued that Heywood was partially responsible. He said Gu Kailai was under the impression that Heywood was threatening to harm her son over some undefined “economic dispute”.
“The court should take into consideration the defendant's good performance in exposing the others involved,” said Tang, without elaborating who Gu Kailai exposed.
No evidence has been made public so far, but state-run Xinhua news agency says that the evidence in the case is “irrefutable and substantial."
The hearing in Hefei drew broad media attention and heavy security presence.
Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, is at the center of one of the most sensational scandals to rock China's Communist Party.
Did not dispute charges she murdered British businessman Neil Heywood
Charged with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood
Worked as a successful lawyer before retiring as her husband's career took off
Wrote a book about her experience helping Chinese companies win a U.S. legal battle
Daughter of a prominent Communist leader
Reporter Shannon Van Sant says uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed in neighborhoods and even shopping malls around the courthouse. Van Sant says that a group of about 20 people showed up at the courthouse in the morning and spoke with reporters about their support for Bo Xilai, whom they saw as an alternative to what they referred to as the current corrupt leadership.
“Initially there was some undercover police, it looked like some undercover thugs who tried to block cameras with their umbrellas,” Van Sant says. “Eventually some other police came over as the people started speaking more forcefully and more passionately of their support for Bo Xilai.”
Van Sant says the police beat several protesters, and eventually forced at least two men inside one of their cars.
VOA contacted one of Bo Xilai’s supporters who was in Hefei Thursday morning. Though he took part in the demonstration he did not want to speak on record yet, saying that the situation was ‘too sensitive.’
The scandal involving Bo’s wife is believed to have had a broad impact on China’s leadership, and comes as the country prepares for its once in a decade leadership reshuffle.
Bo Xilai was previously widely expected to be in line for a seat at the Standing Committee of the party’s politburo. Bo, whose tenure in Chongqing included a deeply controversial revival of Communist themes, also popularized a general clean up of the city he governed, by planting trees and cracking down organized crime in the city. He was considered a popular politician among residents of the southern city.
David Kelly, who heads the Beijing-based think tank China Policy, says that the trial is as much about Bo Xilai as it is about Gu Kailai.
“The emerging theme that Bo Xilai has powerful support and people want to ensure that he is not completely humiliated and destroyed and some of this extends to her,” he says referring to Bo’s wife Gu Kailai.
Kelly says that while official media reports have painted a grim picture of the murder, there has been backlash of sympathy for Gu Kailai as well.
“It is seen that forces that are kind of beyond the individual are at play and she is in a sense a pawn in the game,” Kelly says.
Timeline of the Bo Xilai Scandal
Feb. 2: Bo's key ally and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun is demoted
Feb. 6: Wang visits U.S. consulate in Chengdu, reportedly to seek asylum
Mar. 2: Xinhua says Wang is under investigation
Mar. 9: Bo defends himself and his wife, Gu Kailai, at a press conference at the National People's Congress
Mar.15: Bo dismissed as Chongqing party chief
Mar. 26: Britain asks China to investigate November death of Briton Neil Heywood in Chongqing
Apr. 10: Bo suspended from Communist Party posts. China says his wife is being investigated for Heywood's death
Apr. 17: New York Times reports U.S. officials held Wang so he could be handed to Beijing authorities instead of local police.
Jul. 26: Bo's wife, Gu kailai, charged with the murder of Briton Neil Heywood
August 9: Gu Kailai's trial begins in Hefei.
Bo Xilai has been already been stripped of all his official posts under the vague charge of a “serious breach of regulations.” Although no criminal charge has so far been made public, it is possible that he will be indicted for abuse of power and obstruction of justice for not reporting what he knew about his wife’s crime.
It is unclear how long it will take the court to announce a verdict, but both Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun risk the death penalty for intentional homicide.
Gu Kailai, who ran a successful law firm before being indicted, wrote a book in 1995 after winning an important case in the United States. In the book she praised the Chinese legal system’s effectiveness, saying “as long as it’s known that you, John Doe, killed someone, you will be arrested, tried and shot to death.”
“No doubt she realizes now, that such a system does not leave any fairness,” Kelly says.
Gu Kailai’s lawyers have not spoken publicly about the case. The family of Zhang Xiaojun, co-defendant in the case, had requested that Li Xiaolin, a famous anti corruption lawyer, take on Zhang’s defense during the trial. But Li’s application was rejected by the court, which appointed another lawyer to defend Zhang.