China's most politically explosive trial in recent memory ended in a matter of hours Thursday when Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, did not object to murder charges against her.
Court officials in the eastern city of Hefei gave no indication of when a verdict would be announced, but said Gu Kailai did not deny she was responsible for the murder of British business associate Neil Heywood.
Hefei Intermediate Court spokesperson Tang Yigan accused Gu of poisoning Heywood, with the help of her family’s butler, Zhang Xiaojun, who also is on trial.
Tang said Gu visited Neil Heywood in his hotel room on the evening of November 13, 2011. He said that after Heywood got drunk and vomited, she poisoned him using a substance Zhang Xiaojun had brought.
The court spokesman said Gu’s defense lawyer argued Heywood was partially responsible. He said Gu was under the impression the British businessman was threatening to harm her son over some undefined “economic dispute.”
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.
No evidence has been made public, but the state-run Xinhua news agency described the evidence in the case as “irrefutable and substantial."
Questions of fairness, timing
Even before Gu's speedy, hours-long trial there were concerns about whether she would receive a fair defense, and few doubted she would be found guilty.
The scandal comes at a sensitive time for China's Communist Party, which is set to undergo a rare leadership transition later this year. Many Chinese suspect Beijing officials are using the case as a way to wreck the charismatic Bo Xilai's political career.
Analyst David Kelly, who heads the Beijing-based think tank China Policy, agrees. He said the trial is as much about Bo as about his wife.
“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," said Kelly.
Bo's fate hangs in balance
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
Some say Gu's conviction is a precursor to a possible criminal prosecution of Bo, who is being investigated by the Communist Party for corruption and obstruction of justice for not reporting what he knew about his wife’s crime. Bo is currently detained and has not been heard from in months.
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.