BEIJING — A court in China has sentenced the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai to death for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Gu Kailai's death sentence comes with a two-year reprieve, which means that she is most likely to face life in prison for the crime that has sent shockwaves through China's political system.
Gu Kailai’s suspended death sentence comes shortly after her speedy seven-hour trial earlier this month, which was held in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei.
During her trial, Gu reportedly admitted to pouring the poison down Neil Heywood’s throat after he threatened her son over a business deal gone sour.
Tang Yigan, a court official in Hefei, spoke with reporters Monday about the ruling.
Tang says the judicial review of the case found that Gu has the capacity to be considered criminally responsible even though she was suffering from some psychological disorders. Tang says that while her control was weakened, she had complete capacity to know the nature and consequences of the crime she committed.
In addition to Gu, Zhang Xiaojun, an aide of the Bo family, was charged with helping poison Heywood. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Tang says Gu Kailai avoided an immediate death sentence because she provided the court with clues to other people’s illegal activities and played a positive role in the investigation of related cases. He says the court did not, however, accept Gu’s claims that Heywood’s threats against her son Bo Guagua drove her to murder him.
Tang did not say what information Gu had provided the court or with or what other cases he was referring to.
Typically when a suspended death sentence is handed down in China, it is converted to life in prison after two years. Neither Gu nor Zhang are appealing their sentences, Tang says.
A lawyer representing the family of Neil Heywood says he will speak with them about the verdict, but does not know if they will lodge an appeal.
Although the ruling in Gu’s case closes the door on the investigation into the murder, questions remain about the future of her husband Bo Xilai.
Bo was removed from his post as the Communist Party’s boss in the southern city of Chongqing earlier this year after the city’s former chief of police, Wang Lijun, accused Bo’s wife of murder.
Wang Lijun’s dramatic flight to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February first brought details about the murder to light. He is also expected to be tried, however it is still unclear when his trial will be held and what charges he could face.
Some political analysts believe that the trial against Gu and others is but a prelude to more formal punishment for Bo.
China’s political leadership is the midst of a once in a decade political reshuffle.
In addition to Monday’s sentencing of Gu and the family aide, four police officers from the southern city of Chongqing were also sentenced in Hefei and found guilty of attempting to cover up the murder.