Why was Gu Kailai spared?

Gu Kailai found guilty of murder
Gu Kailai found guilty of murder


    Gu Kailai found guilty of murder


Gu Kailai found guilty of murder 02:15

Story highlights

  • Gu Kailai's suspended death sentence didn't surprise China observers
  • Netizens skeptical of verdict, with some questions why Gu was spared
  • China executes highest number of people, Amnesty reports

At the conclusion of one of China's most high-profile criminal cases, the verdict and sentencing of Gu Kailai did not surprise many observers.

The guilty verdict had been widely expected, as Gu had confessed, during her one-day trial earlier this month, that she and an aide poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood. The high-powered wife of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai had blamed a "mental breakdown" for her actions.

In the end Gu escaped with her life after receiving a suspended death sentence, though she'll likely be jailed for life. Her aide, Zhang Xiaojun, also was found guilty Monday in Heywood's death and sentenced to nine years in prison.

The British embassy in Beijing issued a statement saying it did not want the death penalty applied in the case.

"We welcome the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as responsible," it said. "We consistently made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied."

But others believe the verdict was a forgone conclusion.

Gu Kailai's links to the UK
Gu Kailai's links to the UK


    Gu Kailai's links to the UK


Gu Kailai's links to the UK 03:57
jiang who is gu kai lai_00000527
jiang who is gu kai lai_00000527


    Who is Gu Kailai?


Who is Gu Kailai? 02:26
Trying to gain access to Gu Kailai trial
Trying to gain access to Gu Kailai trial


    Trying to gain access to Gu Kailai trial


Trying to gain access to Gu Kailai trial 03:00

Ahead of the trial, Donald Clarke, professor at George Washington University Law School and writer of the Chinese Law Prof Blog, wrote in an opinion piece: "Most China-watchers assume that proceedings in this case have been tightly controlled to ensure that only the officially approved narrative emerges.

"They assume that the verdict was decided in Beijing before the opening gavel sounded, and that the proceedings were merely a performance for the benefit of the public, a kind of judicial Shakespeare-in-the-park, but without the drama."

Discussions of the Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai were blocked on Sina Weibo, China's popular microblogging site. But Chinese netizens discussed the verdict, alluding to the political saga and voicing skepticism.

"As was expected, they've had a deal earlier," wrote user buzaishiwonaishijidu.

Weibo user sunshinecn2011 wrote, "Delayed death penalty!! And it will turn into a life imprisonment, and then into fixed-term imprisonment, and after several years, it is happy life again."

Some focused on the differences in capital punishment between ordinary citizens and political elites.

One user, Ke Luomu, posted that the death penalty was "a special offer only for ordinary people."

In China, non-violent offenders, such as drug smugglers and food safety violators, can be sentenced to death.

According to Amnesty International, China is believed to carry out the death penalty more than the rest of the world combined.

"China is believed to have executed thousands in 2010 but continues to maintain its secrecy over its use of the death penalty," according to the Amnesty report. "China used the death penalty in 2010 against thousands of people for a wide range of crimes that include non-violent offenses and after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards."

The most popular comments on CNN's story about Gu carried similar themes.

"China executes thousands of people every year, including those convicted of crimes like corruption and drug trafficking. And yet this woman, found guilty of a cold-blooded homicide, is spared. I guess being married to a party official -- even a fallen one -- does have its privileges," wrote one user called Babalawo.

Another CNN commenter questioned the severity of Gu's sentence compared with dissidents in the country.

"Li Wangyang convicted for taking part in Tiananmen Square protest sentenced to 22 years jail... Liu Xiaobo (nobel peace prize winner) convicted of ' Inciting subversion of state power ' for writing part of charter 08 sentenced to 11 years jail. And the list goes on... Way to demonstrate China's rule of law?? So people with independent ideas or thoughts are viewed as more of a threat that a cold-blooded murderer?"

      Bo Xilai scandal

    • chinese.politician.sentenced_00023923.jpg

      What we learned from Bo trial

      Political science professor Yuhua Wang says he's surprised by the severity of the life sentence given to Chinese politician Bo Xilai.
    • This screen grab taken from state television CCTV footage broadcast on August 24, 2013 shows ousted Chinese political star Bo Xilai (C) speaking in the courtroom as he stands trial at the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, China.

      Bo anticipated prison in letter

      In a letter to his family, the disgraced Communist Party leader reiterated his innocence but said he expected a lengthy prison sentence.
    • Was the trial of Bo Xilai (right) any more transparent than that of Jiang Qing and the "Gang of Four"?

      From the Gang of Four to Bo Xilai

      CNN Beijing bureau chief Jaime Florcruz compares his experience covering Bo's trial with a similarly explosive story in the early 1980s -- the "Gang of Four" trial.
    • This picture taken on September 29, 2008 shows the then Chongqing mayor Bo Xilan attending the "Ode to Motherland" singsong gathering in Chongqing. China's once high-flying communist politician Bo Xilai has been indicted for bribery and abuse of power, state media said on July 25, 2013 following a scandal that exposed deep divisions at the highest levels of government. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images

      Was Bo's trial truly transparent?

      While Chinese state media hailed the Bo Xilai trial as a show of "historic transparency," analysts saw its theatrics as part of a high-profile show trial.
    • This frame grab taken from Chinese television CCTV shows on September 18, 2012 shows former police chief Wang Lijun (R) facing the court during his trial in Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan province. The former police chief who set off China's biggest political scandal in years "did not contest" charges including defection and bribery at his trial, which ended on September 19, a court in Chengdu said. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / CCTV

      Trial concludes with 'crush' claims

      The trial of Bo Xilai concluded with claims from Bo that his former police chief had a crush on his wife, Gu Kailai, who is serving time for murder.
    • Gu Kailai: Wife, lawyer, murderer

      The wife of a high-profile Chinese politician found guilty of murder has been described as funny, personable, attractive and charismatic.
    • Wang Lijun pictured last year at the National People's Congress in Beijing.

      The police chief at heart of scandal

      The trigger of China's biggest political scandal in a generation, Wang Lijun was once a feared police chief whose crime fighting exploits inspired a TV series.
    • pkg grant inside china heywood hotel mystery_00002515

      Inside murder mystery hotel

      A run-down hotel on the outskirts of Chongqing is the unlikely setting for a murder mystery. CNN's Stan Grant looks inside.