Having been muzzled politically, Chinese netizens got their way in two prominent criminal cases.
Case No. 1: Yao Jiaxin, a college student stabbed a pedestrian to death after a road accident because he was afraid she 'might' blackmail him. After talking with his parents, Yao turned himself in to police, who were not aware the incident at the time.
Yao was sentenced to death, and quickly executed.
Yao's case caught national media attention after the Yao's family was portrayed as a wealthy and powerful establishment. Yao, a piano student in Xi'an Music Conservatory, was seen as a typical spoiled junior rich, which has been the people's enemy on the Net.
Later officials from the court and legal systems admitted Yao would have been sentenced to a suspended death which is usually converted to life in jail after a 2 years probation.
Legal Proble at Issue: Had Yao not turned himself in, police might not be able to figure out the case; had he not admitted to the motive of killing, the murder charge could not stand. Yet, the legal system had to give in to the petitions of millions on the Internet, which mostly came out of the initial description of Yao's rich family background.
After Yao was executed, it turned out Yao's family was just an ordinary one. His father was not a senior PLA brigadier general as rumored on the Internet. The Yaos did not live in a million dollar house. The Yaos did not have connections or political clout.
While Yao was executed on June 7, 2011, people's attention turned to another case, which was 'even worse than Yao', the case No. 2.
Case No. 2: Li Changkui, a farmer and migrant worker in Jianxi Province was called back home in Yunnan to join in a fight between Li and Wang family. Li caught into a fight with Wang's 18 years old daughter Wang Jiafei when he brutally raped her, then killed her. Li then killed Wang's 3 years old son Wang Jiahong.
Li was sentenced to death in the trail at a lower court, but was granted a suspended death by the Supreme Court of Yunnan Province after appeal.
In an online survey, 98% believed Li's conduct was even worse than Yao, and that he should be sentenced to death. In response, the deputy chief justice of Yunnan Province stated the ruling would stand, and that the court of law should not be replaced by mass media.
Only days later, the court bent before the media pressure and ordered a re-trial of the case.
Legal Problem at Issue: The Chinese legal system is a 'two-tier trail system'. In theory, the ruling of the Supreme Court of Yunnan Province should be the final ruling. Although the sentencing could be debated, but it was based on legal considerations of 1) the feud between the two families; 2) the killing was not premeditated, and 3) the killer turned himself in. Even if there were flaws in the reasoning, it was a lawful final ruling of the legal system. As both families were poor rural farmers, it was not likely any political or social influence had been factored in the deliberations. The court could have made a better judgement, but the current one was well within the boundary of law.
So has the communists regime softened its grasp? Not at all. What's happening is it is a zero-sum game between the people and the government, at the cost of the integrity of the law, which it appears that either side cares.