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September 9, 2009

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Drunk driver escapes death row

CHINA'S first drunk driver to be sentenced to death for causing a fatal car crash broke down in tears yesterday after a Sichuan Province court commuted his penalty to life in prison.

His relatives, however, still thought the verdict was harsh and said they wanted Sun treated like others charged with the crime.

The Supreme People's Court, which held a news conference to comment on the ruling, said the life sentence was the right decision.

The ruling was handed down by the Sichuan Higher People's Court in Chengdu in the case of Sun Weiming, a 30-year-old resident of the provincial capital.

Sun was charged with endangering public security when he crashed into a car and killed four people and injured another in Chengdu on December 14. Prosecutors said he had been driving drunk at speeds up to 138 kilometers per hour. The company executive was driving without a license.

He was sentenced to death on July 23 by the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court.

"The death penalty should be used only in extremely serious crimes, when the criminal has a strong criminal intent and causes negative social influence on a large scale," Gao Guijun, a senior official with the top court, told Xinhua news agency.

Sun's repentant attitude and willingness to pay compensation to the victims' families should also be taken into account, said Huang Ermei, another top court official.

The charge of endangering public security carries a sentence ranging from 10 years in prison to execution and was applied in Sun's case because of the number of people killed. Sun will have to serve at least 10 years and could have the balance of his term reduced on good behavior.

Sun's father, Sun Lin, who reportedly played a key role in swinging public opinion toward his son, was unhappy, however. He described the verdict as "an unfair decision."

The 60-year-old father, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer in August soon after his son's death verdict, gained sympathy over his tireless efforts to raise money to save his son from execution.

Sun's family members used up all their assets to pay compensation of 1 million yuan (US$146,436) to the victims' families. Those families said they were satisfied with yesterday's ruling though none were willing to forgive Sun.

The defendant's lawyer insisted yesterday that her client should have been charged with vehicular manslaughter, which carries up to a three-year term.


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