Death sentence in China rampage sparks debate

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Times Staff Writer

An unemployed man charged with killing six Shanghai police officers in a knife attack was sentenced to death Monday, state media reported.

However, the 28-year-old seemed to engender as much sympathy as condemnation from many Chinese, who expressed concerns online about police treatment of suspects and the fairness of the legal system.

The Shanghai No. 2 People’s Intermediate Court found Yang Jia guilty of premeditated murder and ordered the death penalty for the Beijing man, said the official New China News Agency. On July 1, Yang stabbed a security guard at a police building in Shanghai’s Zhabei District, started a fire at the gate, then attacked nine officers inside the building with a knife.


Shanghai’s public security bureau said at a news conference July 7 that Yang had sought revenge after Zhabei police interrogated and detained him for six hours last fall over a stolen bicycle.

In the wake of the stabbing attack, there has been an outpouring of comments online from citizens nationwide, as well as from Chinese media, questioning how a seemingly minor incident could trigger a rampage that left six people dead and four others injured.

Many Chinese raised suspicions that Yang was beaten by police, which Shanghai authorities denied. Police said Yang in fact had rented the bicycle, and that he demanded about $1,450 in compensation from authorities for mental anguish.

The legal proceedings and the secretive trial of Yang fanned more criticisms on Internet sites, some of which apparently were blocked or shut down Monday.

“If you and I were Yang Jia, we could be sentenced under such namely legal but unclear ways,” said one posting on a lawyer’s blog. Said another: “They have a guilty conscience, so all the websites closed the comment function for this news. This is red terror.”

Officials at Shanghai police headquarters and the No. 2 People’s Intermediate Court would not comment Monday. It was unclear whether Yang would appeal the ruling. A death sentence faces automatic review by China’s Supreme Court.


Yang’s attorney, Xie You- ming, was not taking media calls Monday, said a colleague at Shanghai’s Mingjiang law firm. Xie has been an advisor to Zhabei District, the local jurisdiction, prompting questions about whether the lawyer could represent Yang fully.

Xiong Liesuo, a Beijing lawyer, said that Yang’s father in Beijing had retained him to represent the defendant. But Xiong said that when he went to Shanghai in mid-July, the court told him that Yang already had accepted the services of a lawyer arranged by his divorced mother, and would not allow Xiong to see Yang. Xiong has not been able to reach the mother in Beijing.

“Yang’s father is obviously very worried about the result and feels it’s unfair, unjust and not transparent,” Xiong said, noting that relatives were not allowed to attend the trial. Xiong added that Yang’s father, an electrician, would like to have another appraisal of his son’s psychological state.

Shanghai authorities said July 7 that a judicial appraisal found that Yang was mentally competent during the attack. But Liu Xiaoyuan, another Beijing attorney who has been following the case, said there was no indication a qualified medical team had examined Yang.

Liu said Shanghai police had released the recording of four minutes of a 40-minute interrogation session with Yang, during which police reaction appeared professional. “But why won’t they release the rest of the recording?” Liu asked.

Liu said he believed that the extensive public reaction to this case reflected ordinary citizens’ generally negative view of the police and their power, as well as of the lack of transparency in China’s legal system.


Zou Rong, a professor at East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, said Chinese law allows some cases to be closed to the public. Nor did he see a problem with Yang’s lawyer being a consultant to the district government that is prosecuting the case.

“China is a country of law,” Zou said, “but it still is far from reaching the full construction of its legal system.”