Letters 'could affect' death penalty review

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai (China Daily)      Updated : 2015-07-23

'April Fools' Day' killer writes to his father and lawyer, confessing to murder and seeking help

Two letters written by Lin Senhao, a former medical student who was convicted of killing his roommate Huang Yang with poison, might influence public opinion in his favor, said experts.

The letters were published in Shanghai's Dongfang Daily newspaper on Tuesday. In one letter to his father, on June 5, Lin wrote: "I did poison Huang. I have no other way but to confess the crime and I must."

Lin's father turned to a new attorney who specializes in death penalty cases after the second trial of the case upheld the death sentence in December. The Supreme People's Court began a review of the sentence two months ago.

Lin, who was a student at Fudan University at the time of the murder, also expressed his determination in the letter that he wanted to keep his two attorneys who worked on his second trial and did not want a defense for innocence.

Lin, 29, was sentenced to death after his first trial in February last year for the murder of his roommate, who died of liver, kidney and lung failure more than two weeks after falling ill in April 2013. Lin, the court was told, dropped a deadly chemical into a water dispenser, which led to the death of Huang in what became known as the April Fools' Day killing.

The case sparked a nationwide debate because of Lin's status as a medical student at the high-profile university.

The other letter was written on July 10 to one of his two attorneys, Si Weijiang, to invite him to work on the case again, even though Lin's father previously asked him to step down.

"I haven't made up my mind to be Lin's attorney again," Si said on Wednesday.

Si said that when he and the other lawyer, Tang Zhijian, were working as Lin's attorneys during the review of the death penalty, the top court conducted an inquiry with them but did not listen to the two liver disease experts that they proposed. The attorneys insist the cause of Huang's death is in question and does not rule out other factors.

"We presented an application to the court to meet the experts but haven't received a reply. I would take Lin's request if the court wanted to listen to the experts," Si said.

During the second trial in December, Si and Tang presented evidence that the victim died of acute hepatic necrosis, but it was not admitted by the court.

The letters have influenced some public opinion. The majority believed Lin, as a medical postgraduate, would know that the chemical would kill the victim, although Lin and his attorneys stated that it was an April Fools' Day prank that went wrong. They argued that Lin had not intended for Huang to die.

"His words in the letters let the public see that he pleads guilty and repents his wrongdoing," said Jiang Jiawei, a 28-year-old Shanghai resident. "This is the first step to gain forgiveness from the public."

Favorable public opinion would win him favor in the final decision of the nation's highest court, said law experts.

Yi Shenghua, a Beijing-based criminal lawyer, said that 10 to 15 percent of the death penalty cases reviewed every year are overturned.

"The ratio is around 50 percent when it comes to murder cases that involve one victim and that fall into the category of personal conflict and the defendant proposes compensation," he said.

"The media and public attention on a case would make an impact on its final verdict," he added.

Li Yunlong, chairman of the Criminology Research Council of Jiangxi province, said that according to the current policies concerning the death penalty, Lin does not fall into the category of those who must face a death sentence.

"His confession might bring a favorable turn, and there's some probability that he can be reprieved from the death penalty," he said.