Zhou Yuan spent 15 years in prison after being falsely accused of intentional injury and committing indecent acts with women in 1997 in Yining, China, an offense which earned him a death sentence in 1998.
Despite the lack of concrete evidence against Zhou, he pleaded guilty to 38 counts of assault and for threatening various women in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. However, the Xinjiang High People’s Court declared on Thursday that Zhou was found not guilty due to unclear and insufficient evidence.
“What’s more important is that there was no physical evidence on the scene to prove my client committed the offense,” Zhou’s lawyer Wang Xing explained.
Wang revealed that Zhou will now apply for compensation for the wrongful conviction, according to China Daily.
Wang mentioned that the lower court was criticized for including evidence that weren’t properly obtained. The lawyer also stressed that his client mentioned “several times that he was tortured during interrogations” and that his life had been “completely destroyed.”
Although, Zhou’s mother Li Bizhen was already convinced that his son was wrongfully accused from the start and believes that his son was tortured to force him to confess.
“I came to the prosecutors and courts to correct the mistake, as I’ve always believed my son was innocent. Now that my child’s convictions have been cleared, I won’t appeal again,” Li said.
In 1991, local women in Yining alerted local authorities after being assaulted while they were sleeping as the perpetrator attacked them with scissors, according to South China Morning Post. Zhou was tried again in 2011 after another suspect named Huo Yong confessed in 1998 to a portion of the crimes that were pinned on him, which included sexual assault.
Huo was eventually sentenced to death after he admitted to 34 counts of burglary and sexual assault. His case prompted Zhou’s mother to appeal for her son, which helped reduce the number of charges against Zhou down to five and changed his death sentence to life imprisonment in 1999 for seven of the assaults by a Yining intermediate court. Zhou was released from jail in 2012.
While Huo’s case helped reduce the charges against Zhou to two counts, he was still sentenced to jail for 15 years. After spending years in prison, while entangled in a legal battle that spanned two decades, the 47-year-old Chinese man has finally been cleared of the crime he was wrongfully convicted of when he was 27.
Zhou’s case is being compared to 20-year-old Heibei farmer Nie Shubin, who was falsely accused of raping and killing a woman, but his crimes were overturned when another man confessed to being the real culprit. Unlike Zhou’s case, Nie was acquitted over a decade too late as he was executed via firing squad back in 1995.