Gu Kailai, the wife of a Chinese official, confessed her guilt in the homicide of a British businessman last November, court officials announced during a press conference on Thursday. Gu’s husband Bo Xilai had served as party secretary to the Chinese Communist Party until recently. Both Gu and her butler admitted to poisoning the man, who was in the midst of a financial dispute with the family.
The victim, 41-year-old Neil Heywood, was visiting Chongqing, where Bo held office, when he agreed to meet Gu, 54, for tea and drinks at the Lucky Holiday Hotel. Heywood apparently over-drank and began throwing up, at which point he requested a glass of water, provided by the family butler Zhang Xiaojun.
“Bogu Kailai asked Zhang to pour the pre-prepared poison into Neil Heywood’s mouth,” the court official said, referring to her by her married name. “All the facts are clear and the evidence sufficient.”
The announcement was the result of a daylong trial held in the provincial capital of Hefei. Deputy court director Tang Yian broke the news to reporters, saying that “the defendants did not dispute the accusation of intentional homicide”—the equivalent of premeditated murder in the United States. Gu’s confession did not produce a formal verdict, which will be handed down along with her sentence per the Chinese legal system’s standards. Though the charge usually carries a death penalty, Tang hinted at the possibility of a more lenient sentence.
“The lawyers of the defendants brought up that the victim is partially responsible for causing the crime,” Tang said in the press conference. “When Bogu Kailai committed her crime, her ability to control her actions was weaker than an ordinary person.”
Gu claimed that “Heywood physically endangered the physical safety of her son,” forcing her to act. Heywood had lived in China for almost twenty years, and had served as a mentor to the couple’s 24-year-old son, Bo Guagua. Bo recently graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and has remained in the United States, fearing a return to China. He e-mailed a statement to CNN regarding his involvement in the case:
“As I was cited as a motivating factor for the crimes accused of my mother, I have already submitted my witness statement,” he wrote. “I hope that my mother will have the opportunity to review them. … I have faith that the facts will speak for themselves.”
The Hefei Intermediate Court has yet to comment on the validity of Gu’s belief that her son was in danger. The high profile nature of the case has caused some unrest within the Communist Party, as it moves towards a rare transition in power this fall. The former secretary Bo was viewed as a leading candidate for the powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo, until his wife’s murder case put his career in jeopardy. Bo was removed from his posts in March, after Chongqing’s police chief Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. consulate and accused Bo of trying to cover up the murder, and threatening those who continued to investigate.
The former party secretary has yet to be charged with obstruction or any other financial crimes related to Heywood’s death.