A Chinese court today overturned the death sentences of four men for robbing and killing two taxi drivers 18 years ago, stating that the convictions were based on false evidence.
Zhejiang's provincial Higher People's Court acquitted Wang Jianping and Zhu Youping of the criminal charges, but jailed Chen Jianyang, Tian Weidong and Tian Xiaoping for one to three years for larceny and robbery.
The court in the eastern province said the July 1997 rulings by Hangzhou City Intermediate People's Court, which sentenced four of them to death and the other to life imprisonment, was based on false evidence.
The retrial was granted in May as police found new evidence indicating that one of the victims may have been killed by a different man.
Chen, Zhu, Tian Weidong and Tian Xiaoping were previously convicted of robbing taxi driver Xu Caixia and contributing to her death on March 20, 1995 in the Xiaoshan District of Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, the court said.
According to previous sentences, Chen, Wang, Tian Weidong and Tian Xiaoping had also been found guilty of robbing and killing another driver in the same area on Aug 12, 1995.
Chen and Tian Weidong were charged with stealing property valued at 1,600 yuan. Tian Xiaoping was found to have robbed two truck drivers on his own on Oct 5, 1995.
Chen, Wang, and Tian Weidong were given the death penalty, while Zhu was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Intermediate People's Court of Hangzhou on July 11, 1997. Tian Xiaoping was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The four men who were given the death penalty appealed to a higher court. But all of them received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve from the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court on December 29, 1997, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Police did not discover the real killer, Xiang Shengyuan, until July 2011, when they found that Xiang's fingerprints matched those found at the scene of the first taxi driver's death and restarted the investigation.
Xiang was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for intentional homicide by the Jiaxing City Intermediate People's Court on May 30 this year. The provincial Higher People's Court upheld the ruling on June 27.