A former student at China’s top university has been sentenced to death for murdering his mother and going on the run for more than three years, in a case that has left the Chinese public in dismay.
Wu Xieyu, who studied at the prestigious Peking University, was found guilty of killing his 48-year-old mother by striking her head and face with a dumbbell in July 2015 in their home in the southeastern city of Fuzhou, according to a court statement issued on Thursday.
Wu, who was 20 years old at the time, sought to cover up the killing by wrapping the body in bedding and plastic sheets, and using activated charcoal to absorb the odor, the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court said.
Since police declared Wu a suspect in 2016, Chinese media have intensely covered the case, examining details of his life for clues to why he might have committed the crime. Many expressed disbelief and shock that someone with such impressive academic achievements could have committed such a heinous crime.
Wu was the recipient of scholarships and multiple awards in school. A year before the murder, he took the Graduate Record Examinations and got a full score on the quantitative section, and 165 out of 170 on the verbal test, scores that could potentially land him in Ivy League graduate schools, according to Chinese media reports.
At his trial last December, Wu said his mother, a secondary school teacher, was living a hard life after his father died of cancer in 2010. He added that in 2015, he thought of taking his and his mother’s lives to escape their suffering, according to a report by the news outlet Thepaper.cn.
“There was no better way. I would not do it if there were,” he was quoted as telling the court. “At the time, I thought this was the most noble way.”
But after he killed his mother, Wu said, he became terrified and no longer wanted to kill himself.
Following the murder, Wu claimed he forged a resignation letter for his mother and borrowed money from relatives and friends, telling them he was moving to America with her. With the money he bought more than 10 identity cards and moved across the country to evade law enforcement, according to the court statement.
Police began hunting him after his mother’s body was found in February 2016. While hiding in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, Wu worked as a waiter at a nightclub, where a manager recalled seeing him speaking fluent English with foreigners, Thepaper.cn reported.
He was captured by police at the Chongqing airport in April 2019. At his trial last year, Wu said he regretted killing his mother. Several relatives said they had forgiven him and pleaded for leniency.
In handing down the death penalty on Thursday, the court said what Wu had done “seriously violated family morality and trampled on the normal feelings of human society.” It’s unclear if Wu will appeal the sentence.
Many internet users said they agreed with the verdict, although some others also called for more attention to the mental health of young people.
“He should be executed for the crime, but it also feels like a tragedy in the human world,” said a top-voted comment on the microblogging site Weibo.
Capital punishment for those who committed serious crimes has strong public support in China. The country is believed to carry out the most death sentences in the world, although the exact number of executions is unknown.
Besides murder, offences punishable by death in China include treason, espionage, drug trafficking, and illegal weapon production.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.