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August 6, 2011

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Friend turns on prisoner, who now likely faces murder trial

IN a flash, the sneering smile on the prisoner's face froze, his clenched fists fell down, while his whole body trembled out of anger and fear.

For the past 12 years, the man had stayed behind bars for human trafficking in a case dating to 1999, when a boy went missing after being taken away from his parents.

The prisoner never disclosed the boy's whereabouts. He was jailed for human trafficking for 15 years, not given a life sentence for kidnapping or murder because the evidence was lacking. He has been counting down the remaining days to April 27, 2012, when he should be set free.

But yesterday morning, Lu Shundong, the 1.65-meter-tall man wearing a white prisoner uniform and an even paler face, once again stood accused in court - but this time for kidnapping and murdering the missing boy.

The difference: A witness came forward with new evidence. But even more surprising to Lu was that this new witness turned out to be his only friend, a man to whom he had once admitted kidnapping and killing the four-year-old boy in August 1999.

When prosecutors spoke out the name of the witness and revealed his testimony, the sneering smile on Lu's face disappeared and he lost control in the Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People's Court.

"Jiang Xiaobing!" He roared the witness' name three times and turned to the prosecutors, pleading, "I have had enough in the jail for the past 12 years. Do you hate me so much to keep me longer?"

According to prosecutors, Jiang said Lu called him via telephone shortly after he took the boy away, saying that "he had made a huge mistake." Jiang advised Lu to turn himself in to police, but Lu told him the boy was dead.

The prosecutors announced in court that the 1999 court decision should be set aside and Lu should be charged with kidnapping and murdering the boy. A conviction could carry a life or death sentence because of Lu's lack of remorse.

In the audience sat Tang Weihua, a 42-year-old mother who has been looking for her missing son for the past 12 years while also trying to get prosecutors to reopen the case. She sneered at Lu as volunteers around her who had joined the search team all cheered.

"I have never seen him acting in such impatience, confusion and fear as he always believed that the prosecutors could do nothing to him in the second trial due to a lack of evidence," said Tang, who has repeatedly confronted Lu over the years.

Lu has given many different stories to the police, among them that he lost the child in a river, he was robbed by another trafficker, or that the boy "disappeared" at a railway station.

Tang, while wanting death for Lu, had visited him for years, begging him to reveal the whereabouts of her son, clinging to hope he was still alive.

But this time it was different.

"Now I have accepted the assumption that my son is dead, so it's time for him to pay," said Tang.

According to Tang, the witness Jiang refused to testify during the 1999 trial because he was Lu's only friend and didn't want to get involved. But 12 years later, Jiang had also become the father of a boy, and with that perspective he changed his mind and volunteered to be a witness. That allowed prosecutors to charge Lu a second time and alter the previous court decision – a very rare event in Chinese courts.


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