A man reported to be China's longest-serving wrongfully convicted inmate became a free man after a court ruled there was insufficient evidence. Zhang Yuhuan was accused of murdering his neighbors — two young boys.
A court in southeast China has acquitted Zhang Yuhuan of murder after 27 years behind bars.
The Jiangxi High People's Court on Tuesday found Zhang not guilty, citing insufficient evidence to prove his conviction. Chinese media, including the Xinhua news agency, reported extensively on the case, with television footage of Zhang's reunion with his family also broadcast.
A judge overturned an original ruling in which the 52-year-old was given a suspended death sentence.
In a statement, judge Tian Ganlin declared: "After we reviewed the materials we have found there is no direct evidence that can prove Zhang's conviction. So we accepted the prosecutors' suggestion and have declared Zhang innocent."
After the verdict was announced, the Jiangxi court apologized to Zhang and informed him of his right to apply for state compensation for wrongful conviction.
"I'll negotiate the exact amount of compensation with my client," Wang Fei, Zhang's lawyer, told the China Daily. "We're also planning to ask for those who committed judicial miscarriages in the case to be held accountable."
A local from Jinxian county of Nanchang in Jiangxi province, Zhang is thought to be the country's longest-serving wrongfully convicted inmate.
In October 1993, the corpses of two young boys were discovered in a reservoir in a village in Jinxian. Police identified Zhang, who was the neighbor of the two victims, as a lead suspect and detained him a few days later.
In January 1995, the Nanchang Intermediate People's Court sentenced Zhang to death for intentional homicide, but allowed the sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment after he served two years.
According to domestic media, Zhang confessed to police at the time but then maintained that he had been tortured and pleaded not guilty in court. He also appealed several times. After his release this week, he thanked Chinese authorities for delivering him justice "a bit late."
The court found that it was not possible to prove that the sacks and hemp ropes found at the murder scene and identified as tools used in the crime were connected to Zhang, Xinhua reported.
For Zhang's first home-cooked meal in 27 years, his family served him a pot of glutinous rice balls and braised eggs. Zhang's ex-wife, who was married to Zhang prior his arrest, cried with joy upon greeting Zhang and then fainted, local media reported.