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Murder case tried for the fourth time

A SUSPECTED murderer had his case heard for the fourth time in northern China after three previous death sentences were all overruled on appeal due to questionable evidence.

Yan Fufeng stood trial at Qinghe County People's Court in Hebei Province on April 17 for allegedly murdering Li Fengqin, a neighbor, on August 16, 2002, The Beijing News reported yesterday.

However, his lawyer argued that evidence collected by local police was full of holes and Yan's confession was made under duress. Yan claims he was tortured by police while in custody.

His attorney for the fourth court hearing, Xu Rong, said all the key evidence police submitted was questionable and the case could not reach an verdict due to the sloppy investigation techniques of local law enforcement officials.

Police said Yan confessed to murdering his neighbor one day after being seized on August 17, 2002.

According to police, Yan swindled Li out of 200,000 yuan (US$29,200) in a deal over purchasing cashmere and then killed her with an ax.

Police said Yan went to Li's home and pretended to search for her together with Li's family members.

Yan was also accused of calling Li's family on August 16 to say the woman had been kidnapped and to demand a ransom. Police said he later tried to get rid of the ax and burned clothes he wore during the murder.

However, Yan's first counsel, Zhang Lintang, said police never tested the ax for DNA and produced no evidence that Yan killed Li or made the call demanding a ransom.

Yan's case was heard the first time by Xingtai Intermediate People's Court on May 31, 2003. At the time, Yan offered the court a page he tore from the record book in the detention house with a signed witness statement claiming he was heavily beaten during his questioning. The page was also signed by two cell guards who were on duty.

Yan claimed he and Li were kidnapped by a middleman involved in the cashmere deal. He told the court he was knocked unconscious and when he woke up Li was missing. He also claimed to have been warned by the middleman not to call the police otherwise his family would be in danger.

The court has yet to announce a verdict.


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