A rural man who killed an official to avenge the forced demolition of his house was executed on Tuesday in northern China despite a public outcry, ending one of the most controversial death penalty cases in recent years.
Jia Jinglong, 30, was found guilty of using a nail gun to shoot dead the man responsible for the demolition of his house. The verdict, by a court in Hebei province, came last November, two years after the house was torn down. An appeal court upheld the original death sentence in May.
Jia was allowed to meet his family yesterday morning, right before getting a lethal injection, his lawyer, Wei Rujiu, said.
Jia’s case was widely debated in mainland media and among lawyers and legal scholars.
In a joint open letter addressed to China’s top judge, Zhou Qiang, on Sunday, a dozen scholars and lawyers – including Zhang Qianfan and He Weifang from Peking University – had called for delaying the execution.
“The case has raised controversy because the less well-off long for equal protection of their properties and for legal justice,” the letter said.
It argued that Jia was the victim of a forced demolition that violated housing regulations, and that he had been subject to unlawful intimidation.
Jia’s father, who had signed an agreement on compensation for Jia’s home behind his son’s back, said he only did so after the government threatened not to accept an application for a pension for Jia’s grandmother, according to records from the trial. An official in charge of demolitions for the village had testified that rejecting family pension applications was a way to ensure that home demolitions went smoothly.
“It was not only done to the Jia family. It’s still like this with some families in the village now,” Hu Yuanzhen had testified.
The letter also questioned the employment of the death penalty on Jia, pointing out that the authorities had been lenient in the past when sentencing corrupt government officials.
“We hope that the judiciary respects life and shows caution with the usage of the death penalty in common criminal cases, as it does with corrupt officials,” the letter said.
Members of the legal community had also cited the case of Gu Kailai, the wife of former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai.
Gu was found guilty of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011, but was handed a suspended death sentence.
Jia’s house was demolished only 18 days before his wedding day, which was also his birthday.
The demolition team included dozens of unidentified men, armed with axes and sticks, who tore down the house. Jia and his cousin were beaten up during the process.
Jia’s sister, who was at the scene on May 7, 2013, said there were uniformed policemen nearby filming the demolition, but that they never stopped the violence.
“If the people were left with a choice to live, I would not have taken this dead-end path,” Jia said in a statement last year about the murder of the official. “I displaced the enemy of the people. I acted for justice.”
A spokesman at the Supreme People’s Court, which approved the execution, said Jia’s crime was premeditated.
“To carry out the murder, Jia spent two years planning it, preparing the weapon, choosing the time and location,” the spokesman said. “All of these indicate strong malice.”
But the spokesman made no mention of Jia’s failed petitions during those two years for compensation for his home.