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Gu Kailai's Fall from Grace

Gu Kailai, right, stands accused of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, left.
Gu Kailai, right, stands accused of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, left.
Once hailed as the Jackie Kennedy of China, Gu Kailai’s fall from grace is just as dramatic, if not more so, than that of her husband Bo Xilai, a former Communist Party star stripped from power in a political scandal.

The glamorous, intelligent and savvy former lawyer now needs a lawyer of her own as she faces murder charges stemming from the death of British businessman Neil Heywood last November in what Xinhua calls a conflict over "economic interests."

Gu, 53, was once seen as a role model for many Chinese women. She was born to a prominent family but claims to have had to eke out a living in a variety of menial jobs after her family was detained during the Cultural Revolution. She later studied law at the prestigious Peking University.

She met Bo at university in 1984, and married in 1987, the same year Gu began working as a lawyer.

She started her own law firm in 1995, and was perhaps most noted for her involvement in a landmark legal case in the United States where several Dalian, China, firms were involved. Bo was mayor of Dalian at the time.

Ed Byrne, an American lawyer who worked with Gu on the case, recalls her as "smart, charismatic, attractive."

"I was very impressed with her," he said in a BBC television interview.

The BBC, quoting a source close to the family, said Gu shut down the law firm in 2001, when her husband became the Communist Party chief of the megacity Chongqing to deflect any potential allegations that the firm was benefitting from Bo’s position.

The same source speculated that Gu’s health has deteriorated in recent years, saying she rarely left the family house in Chongqing.

Following her success with the U.S. legal case, Gu was able to parlay her notoriety into a book called, “Winning a Lawsuit in the U.S.” Now, her life likely depends on winning a case in China.