Man on death row in China for killing village chief who forcibly demolished home could win reprieve after outcry

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese man condemned to death for killing a village official after his home was forcibly demolished could avoid execution following a public outcry, his sister said on Monday (Oct 24).

China's Supreme People's Court last week approved the death sentence passed on Jia Jinglong for shooting dead his village chief with a nail gun in the northern province of Hebei last year, state media said. The court's approval is the final step before a convict can be legally executed.

But lawyers and the public have called for Jia's sentence to be commuted on the grounds that the demolition of his home by local officials constituted extenuating circumstances, and because he confessed to the crime.

The house was pulled down just weeks before his wedding day in 2013, the state-run Global Times reported, adding he was beaten and denied compensation.

Brutal land seizures and forced evictions of villagers by local officials making way for development have become a major source of social resentment in China, sometimes triggering unrest.

Jia's case has sparked widespread debate on Chinese social media. Hundreds signed an online petition calling for the death sentence to be revoked, while lawyers for the family sent a letter to court officials asking for a reprieve.

"They have received the letter," the condemned man's sister Jia Jingyuan said Monday after a meeting with court officials in Beijing. "There is hope the verdict can be changed".

"The online comments, especially the support of experts, scholars and lawyers has been a great support," she added.

China is widely believed to lead the world in executions with estimates of a few thousand every year, although the exact figure is considered a state secret.

Executions in China - believed generally to be carried out by lethal injection - have declined in recent years following the requirement that the Supreme Court review such sentences.

A Chinese court last year commuted the death sentence of a woman who killed her abusive husband after a public outcry, in what was seen as a landmark verdict.