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Report: Gu Kailai admits poisoning British businessman, leading to his death

By the CNN Wire Staff
August 17, 2012 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
This frame grab taken from CCTV video shows Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, facing the court during her murder trial in Hefei on August 9, 2012.
This frame grab taken from CCTV video shows Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, facing the court during her murder trial in Hefei on August 9, 2012.
  • The wife of ex-Chinese politician Bo Xilai says, "I suffered a mental breakdown"
  • A family aide confesses to his role, saying, "I really know that I did wrong"
  • British businessman Neil Heywood died after being poisoned in his hotel room
  • Gu's murder trial occurred Thursday, though no verdict has been announced

(CNN) -- The wife of a former top Chinese politician has admitted to poisoning a British businessman, blaming a "mental breakdown" for her actions that resulted in Neil Heywood's death, state news reported.

The closely watched murder trial of Gu Kailai took place Thursday, adjourning in the afternoon without the announcement of a verdict, said Tang Yigan, deputy head of the Hefei Intermediate People's Court.

On Friday, the state-run Xinhua news agency offered details on what transpired in court the previous day during the seven-hour long trial. That included a statement by Gu in which she not only didn't deny the accusations levied against her, but "accepted all the facts written in the indictment" -- including poisoning Heywood at a time when she thought her son's life was in danger.

Who is Gu Kailai?

"During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning my son was in jeopardy," Gu, 53, said shortly before the trial concluded. "The tragedy, which was created by me, was not only extended to Neil, but also to several families."

Her family aide and alleged co-conspirator, Zhang Xiaojun, likewise admitted to his part in the crime and said he wanted to say "sorry" to the victim's family.

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"I hope the court can give me a chance to take a new lease on life," Zhang said in the court in the eastern city of Hefei, according to the Xinhua report. "I really know that I did wrong."

The pair were accused of killing the 41-year-old Heywood last November in a hotel room in the city of Chongqing. Chinese authorities had previously said that Gu and her son had "conflicts" with Heywood "over economic interests" and that she was motivated to kill the Briton because of fears for her son Bo Guagua's safety.

Reached Friday by e-mail, Bo Guagua declined to comment on his mother's confession or "any details pertaining to the case."

Gu's admission is the latest phase in the fall from grace of the prominent family of Bo Xilai, Gu's husband, who until earlier this year had appeared destined to join the elite committee of leaders at the top of China's ruling party.

The family's alleged involvement in Heywood's death triggered the most sensational Chinese political scandal in recent memory. And it created an extraordinary set of challenges for the central government as it prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition later this year.

Why the Gu Kailai trial is important?

Prosecutors said in court Thursday that Gu had invited Heywood to the southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing -- the city where Bo was then the Communist Party chief -- from Beijing. The trial took place 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) east of Chongqing, where Heywood died and where support for Bo and his family remains strong.

Heywood and Gu drank alcohol and tea in a hotel room, after which the Briton got drunk and began vomiting, a prosecutor said. When Heywood asked for water, Gu asked Zhang, who'd been waiting outside, to come into the room.

It was then that Gu got cyanide from Zhang and, after her aide carried Heywood to the bed, poured the poison into the Briton's mouth, according to the prosecutor.

Gu then scattered capsules containing narcotics on the floor to make it seem like Heywood was using drugs, the prosecution said. She put a "Do not disturb" sign on Heywood's hotel room door and told hotel staff not to bother him, a hotel employee said.

Neither Gu nor Zhang objected to the prosecution's outline of the case, according to Tang, the court official, though Gu's lawyer did argue for leniency.

Bo and Gu on trial, in different ways

In her statement, Gu explained how, in 2005, she and her son Bo Guagua got to know Heywood after he wrote them to introduce himself. The Briton later became an agent and participant in a land development project in China that never materialized.

When Heywood asked for compensation, he began to have disputes with the family and -- according to Gu -- threatened her son's personal safety. Prosecutors displayed numerous e-mails between Heywood and Gu's son showing the increasingly heated conflict.

At some point, Gu decided to kill Heywood, prosecutors said. They displayed a statement by Gu in which she said, "To me, that was more than a threat. It was real action that was taking place. I must fight to my death to stop the craziness of Neil Heywood."

In an e-mail to CNN Tuesday, Bo Guagua said he had submitted a witness statement to his mother's defense team.

"I have faith that facts will speak for themselves," wrote Bo, 24, who graduated from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in May.

A Bo family friend said the court did not accept the younger Bo's statement as evidence Thursday.

Another facet of the case that's drawn international attention, as noted in the Xinhua report, was the fact that an official appointed by Bo's family initially was among those who first decided not to categorize Heywood's death as a criminal case. These authorities covered up Gu's presence at the scene by fabricating interview records and hiding evidence, among other measures, the report said.

The authorities "persuaded" Heywood's relatives to accept their conclusion and cremated the British citizen's body without conducting an autopsy, according to Xinhua. But the case was reopened after Wang Lijun, then vice mayor and police chief of Chongqing, tried to defect to the U.S. consulate in the neighboring Sichuan city of Chengdu.

In a related case, Chinese state media reported Thursday that four top Chongqing policemen will be tried for trying to cover up Heywood's murder to help Gu.

The four -- Guo Weiguo , Li Yang , Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi -- were charged July 30 and will face trial in Hefei, Xinhua and CCTV reported.

They have been charged with "acting with partiality and defeating the ends of justice," the outlets reported.

CNN's Steven Jiang and Jason Kessler contributed to this report.

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