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Gu Kailai set to hear fate over murder of British businessman

By Steven Jiang, CNN
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Fri August 17, 2012
Image from CCTV video shows Gu Kailai (C) facing the court during her murder trial in Hefei on August 9, 2012.
Image from CCTV video shows Gu Kailai (C) facing the court during her murder trial in Hefei on August 9, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Friend tells CNN Chinese authorities will announce Gu Kailai verdict Monday
  • Gu and former aide Zhang Xiaojun were tried for allegedly killing a British businessman
  • Xinhua report: Gu had "accepted all the facts written in the indictment"
  • Trial comes as her husband, disgraced ex-Party chief Bo Xilai, awaits his own fate

Beijing (CNN) -- Chinese authorities will announce the verdict Monday morning in the murder trial of Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced Communist Party leader Bo Xilai, a friend of her family told CNN.

The Hefei Intermediate People's Court in eastern China, where Gu and former household aide Zhang Xiaojun were tried August 9 for allegedly poisoning a British businessman to death, will make the announcement at 9 a.m. local time (9 p.m. ET Sunday), said the source, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Chinese courts usually hand down the sentence at the same time as a guilty verdict -- and Gu and Zhang are expected to be convicted of murder.

The conviction rate for first and second instance criminal trials in China stood at 99.9% in 2010, a U.S. State Department report said, citing the Chinese Supreme People's Court.

Gu has admitted to poisoning 41-year-old Neil Heywood last November in a hotel room in the southwestern city of Chongqing, blaming a "mental breakdown" for her actions.

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The state-run Xinhua news agency offered details on what transpired during the seven-hour-long trial last week. That included a statement by Gu in which she not only didn't deny the accusations levied against her, but "accepted all the facts written in the indictment" -- including poisoning Heywood at a time when she thought her son's life was in danger.

"During those days last November, I suffered a mental breakdown after learning my son was in jeopardy," Gu, 53, said shortly before the trial concluded. "The tragedy, which was created by me, was not only extended to Neil, but also to several families."

Her alleged co-conspirator, Zhang, likewise admitted to his part in the crime and said he wanted to say "sorry" to the victim's family.

"I hope the court can give me a chance to take a new lease on life," Zhang said in the court in the eastern city of Hefei, according to the Xinhua report. "I really know that I did wrong."

Why the Gu trial is important

Chinese authorities had previously said that Gu and her son had "conflicts" with Heywood "over economic interests" and that she was motivated to kill the Briton because of fears for her son Bo Guagua's safety. Bo declined to comment on his mother's confession or "any details pertaining to the case." However, the day before the trial he told CNN he had submitted a witness statement to her defense team.

Prosecutors claimed Gu had invited Heywood to Chongqing -- the city where Bo was then the Communist Party chief -- from Beijing. The two drank alcohol and tea in a hotel room, after which the Briton got drunk and began vomiting, a prosecutor said. When Heywood asked for water, Gu asked Zhang, who'd been waiting outside, to come into the room.

How China is viewing Gu trial

It was then that Gu got cyanide from Zhang and, after her aide carried Heywood to the bed, poured the poison into the Briton's mouth, according to the prosecutor.

Gu then scattered capsules containing narcotics on the floor to make it seem like Heywood was using drugs, the prosecution said. She put a "Do not disturb" sign on Heywood's hotel room door and told hotel staff not to bother him, a hotel employee said.

Neither Gu nor Zhang objected to the prosecution's outline of the case, according to Tang, the court official, though Gu's lawyer did argue for leniency.

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Timeline: Bo Xilai's downfall

The trial of Gu takes place as her husband, Bo Xilai, awaits his own fate after being stripped of his political office due to an unspecified "serious breach of party regulations."

Until last April, he was already an influential -- and controversial -- member of the Communist Party's politburo, the elite group of 25 men who run China.

Bo, 63, was the party chief of Chongqing, a bustling southwestern metropolis. He was widely expected to get into the Politburo's nine-member standing committee -- the country's supreme decision-making body -- later this year, when the Communist Party convenes for its once-in-a-decade leadership change.

In the sprawling riverside megalopolis, the charismatic and urbane politician Bo launched a "smash black, sing red" campaign that promoted Chinese communist culture as zealously as it cracked down on organized crime.

His economic policies, which included millions spent on social housing -- garnered him rock star status in Chongqing -- a fact that did not go down well with other members of the Party hierarchy. His populist policies and high-profile personal style were seen as a challenge to the economically liberal and reform-oriented faction within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Bo's world eventually came crashing down earlier this year when Wang Lijun, his handpicked former police chief, tried to defect to the U.S. consulate in the neighboring Sichuan city of Chengdu, triggering a political crisis that rocked the leadership in Beijing.

Premier Wen Jiabao obliquely reprimanded Chongqing's leadership over the Wang incident during his annual press conference on March 14. Wen also referred to the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution -- a reference that alluded to Bo's red revival in Chongqing -- and said that the city's stellar economic performance had been the fruits of several administrations and not just Bo's work alone.

The following day, Xinhua announced that Bo had been dismissed as Chongqing party chief and, almost a month later, he was suspended from the CCP's Central Committee and its Politburo ahead of an investigation. He has not been seen in public since.

CNN's Jason Kessler, Greg Botelho, Paul Armstrong and Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.

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