"Murdered" Chinese man reappears after 10 years

BEIJING Tue May 11, 2010 9:13am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese man who was supposedly hacked to death in a fight has reappeared in his hometown after 10 years, state media said, raising questions about police torture to extract a confession from the alleged killer.

Zhao Zuohai, the supposed killer, was acquitted of the crime and released by a Henan court on Saturday, state news agency Xinhua said, citing a court press conference on Sunday.

He had served 10 years of a 29-year sentence after confessing to killing Zhao Zhenshang in a hatchet fight in central China's Henan province, the China Daily reported this weekend.

A headless body was found in a village well about a year after the fight, at which point Zhao was arrested and confessed to the killing.

The victim, Zhao Zhenshang, reappeared in the village on May 2 to seek welfare support. He had fled after the fight because he feared he had killed the now-imprisoned Zhao.

Convictions in the Chinese court system are strongly dependent on confessions, motivating police to use force to get a confession and close the case.

A series of deaths in police custody over the last year has emboldened reformers and aided a fight by the Ministry of Justice to wrest control of detention centres from the police.

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.

While in prison, his wife left him for another man and three of his four children were given to other families for adoption, the China Daily said.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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