A 36-year-old man was sentenced to death Tuesday by a court in northwestern China for killing three of his neighbors. The man’s lawyer told the court that the crime had been an act of revenge: His mother had been killed in a fight with one of the neighbors over two decades ago.
At the conclusion of the trial, which was livestreamed to the public, the Hanzhong Intermediate People’s Court in Shaanxi province ruled that the defendant, Zhang Koukou, should be executed for three counts of murder. On Feb. 15, 2018 — the eve of China’s Lunar New Year holiday — Zhang had used a knife to attack his neighbor, Wang Zhengjun, as well as Wang’s brother and father, in Wangping Village, an area in Hanzhong’s Nanzheng District. Afterward, Zhang set the family’s car on fire and fled the scene; he turned himself in to police two days later.
Zhang told the court that his actions were the product of years of pent-up anger toward his neighbors for what they did to his mother. In the summer of 1996, Zhang witnessed an altercation between her and their neighbors. Wang hit Zhang’s mother in the head with a large stick, and the woman died several hours later. Because Wang was under 18 years old at the time, he received a relatively lenient punishment of seven years in prison and was released a few years early.
According to a defense argument published Tuesday by Zhang’s lawyer, Deng Xueping, the defendant had vivid memories of his mother dying in his arms when he was just 13 years old — blood trickling from her nose and the corner of her mouth — and an autopsy performed on the side of the road in front of hundreds of gawking onlookers. When Zhang grew older, Deng wrote, he had trouble holding a decent job and earning money.
Zhang described his life over the past few years as difficult and said he constantly harbored thoughts of revenge in the back of his mind. “I’m not making trouble for no reason. Before the incident, I was feeling depressed: The memory of my mother was with me the entire day,” he said. “Then when I saw Wang Zhengjun, I nearly had a mental breakdown.”
“Before the tragedy, we didn’t notice his desire for revenge,” said Deng, the lawyer, pleading for a lighter sentence for his client. “After [his mother’s death], we neglected to see that our entire society abandoned him: no psychological counseling, no help, no care.”
Hanzhong’s prosecutor argued that a personal vendetta should not justify committing a crime. “The defendant ‘avenging his mother’s death’ is not an excuse for him to wantonly vent his frustration and disappointment,” the prosecutor said. “If revenge could get him labeled a hero after killing three people, it would create confusion about the basic notions of right and wrong.”
The court determined that Zhang had committed the crime with “despicable motives” and “especially malicious measures,” and that his actions had negatively impacted society. “Despite the fact that there was a reason behind the tragedy, and that Zhang is a first-time offender who turned himself in, he should not receive a lenient punishment according to the law,” the court said.
Before the court issued its verdict, Zhang’s father told media that he wished for a good outcome for his son, whom he hoped would take care of him in his old age.
Zhang and his lawyer have appealed the decision. “We are waiting for the second trial in the high people’s court,” Deng told Sixth Tone.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Zhang Koukou appears in court in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, Jan. 8, 2019. Xinhua)