HEIFEI, China, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Gu Kailai, wife of a once powerful Chinese leader, Monday got a suspended death sentence for murder, ending a hugely important case in the country.
A municipal intermediate people's court in Heifei city in China's eastern Anhui province, which had conducted the one-day trial of the 53-year-old former attorney and wife of ousted party leader Bo Xilai earlier this month, sentenced her "to death with a two-year reprieve for intentional homicide" in the poisoning death last November of British businessman Neil Heywood, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Such a sentence in China means a likely life term for the woman.
Zhang Xiaojun, a family aide and fellow accused, was sentenced to nine years in prison, the report said.
The Heifei court also tried four Chongqing police officers for allegedly covering up the crime but they are yet to be sentenced.
In sentencing Gu, the court might have taken into consideration her mental state at the time of Heywood's death as she feared for the safety of her son.
During her Aug. 9 trial, Gu did not contest the charge of poisoning Heywood, only saying an economic issue led to the threat against her son. Zhang also did not contest the charge against him.
The case was seen as being of enormously significant because of her husband Bo's stature. He had been the chief of the Communist Party in the large city of Chongqing and had been fast-rising party official on track to become a Politburo member before being ousted in March for alleged disciplinary violations. The trial also came at a time when the party is preparing for China's once-a-decade leadership change set for later this year.
A lawyer for the family of Heywood, said: "I respect the sentence from the court. I have not met the relatives. We will discuss this later. The court had reasons," Britain's Guardian reported.
There has not been much reported about Bo since the trial or what might be his fate after Gu's court verdict. It is not yet clear if he also will face criminal charges. Though out of favor with top party leaders, he still remains popular in Chongqing.
The Wall Street Journal reported party leaders may also want to avoid public focus as the Bo case has raised issues such as the private wealth of the families of some of the top leaders.
CNN, quoting a family source, said neither Gu nor Zhang will appeal their sentences.
In the case of Bo, CNN said under his leadership, millions were spent on social housing, making him highly popular in Chongqing. However, such economic policies of Bo were seen as a challenge to the economically liberal and reform-oriented faction within the Communist Party, it said.
Bo's ouster was triggered after his chosen police chief Wang Lijun sought to defect to the U.S. consulate in the neighboring Sichuan city.
The New York Times quoted legal analysts and political experts that Gu's sentencing appeared to be aimed not only at satisfying the public and the British government, but also supporters of Bo.
The Guardian said Gu's guilty verdict was never in doubt as China's courts are controlled by the Communist party. But at the same time, the report quoted analysts as saying officials also had to ensure against a lenient court verdict lest it been as bowing to powerful leaders.