ZHENGZHOU, May 9 (Xinhua)-- A man who spent almost 10 years in jail for murder has been acquitted after the alleged "murder victim" reappeared in central China's Henan Province, the Provincial Higher People's Court said Sunday.
Zhao Zuohai was declared innocent by the provincial Higher People's Court on Friday after the alleged "murder victim" returned home after more than ten years.
State compensation procedure has started and a probe into the wrong conviction is underway, according to a statement of the Higher People's Court.
Judges responsible for the verdict will be punished, said Zhang Liyong, chief judge of the Higher People's Court.
According to the court statement, in October 1997, Zhao Zuohai and his neighbor Zhao Zhenshang had a fight at their hometown in Zhecheng County, Shangqiu City, after which Zhao Zhenshang went missing.
Four months later, Zhao Zhenshang's nephew, Zhao Zuoliang, reported his uncle missing to the police.
A year later, in May 1999, a headless and highly decomposed body was found in the village. Zhao Zuohai was arrested as the murder suspect and in 2002 he was convicted of murdering Zhao Zhenshang.
Zhao Zuohai was sentenced to death with a two year reprieve. The sentence was later commuted to 29-years imprisonment.
A villager from Zhao Zuohai's hometown said during the ten years Zhao Zuohai was in jail, his wife remarried and two of his four kids were adopted, with the other two leaving the village to become migrant workers.
But Zhao Zhenshang returned to the village on April 30, 2010. The Higher People's Court confirmed Zhao Zhenshang's identity on May 7 and acquitted Zhao Zuohai.
Zhao Zhenshang told Xinhua that he and Zhao Zuohai used to be good neighbors and coworkers. But the relationship deteriorated over money issues and a woman, Du Jinhui.
Zhao Zhenshang said he was enraged when he saw Zhao Zuohai was staying over at Du's home on Oct. 31, 1997. He went home but later came and hit Zhao Zuohai on the head.
Afraid of Zhao Zuohai taking revenge, Zhao Zhenshang ran away from the village.
The 56-year-old Zhao Zhenshang said he never married and that he missed home during all the years he was away. As he hadn't earned much money, he was too ashamed to return home.
Zhao's suffering reminded people of another case in 2005, in which a man, after 11 years in jail in Hubei Province for allegedly murdering his wife, was proved innocent after the woman turned up alive. The man, She Xianglin, said he had confessed to the crime under police torture.
Zhao's case triggered widespread speculation of forced confession. A county-level police official told Xinhua that police authorities are investigating if there were any forced confession and police torture in the case.
Zhao Zuohai's ex-wife Zhao Xiaoqi told the local Dahe Newspaper that police had hit her with sticks while asking her if she knew that her husband had killed others
Police are also trying to ascertain the identity of the headless corpse.