The Long Night (excerpt)
By Chen Zijin, translated by Michelle Deeter and printed by kind permission of FT Culture
March 2, 2013, Evening. Xiacheng District Public Security Bureau, Jiangzhou.
The captain and deputy chief strode into the monitoring room where officers watched a live transmission of the suspect interview. “Has he confessed?” the captain asked one of the officers sitting inside.
The officer pointed to the handcuffed man on the screen and said, “He admitted to killing the man, but they’re still working on the details. He seems to be cooperating. He says the deceased was his friend. Apparently, that ‘friend’ owed him a lot of money and he killed the guy in a fit of rage.”
The deputy chief looked at the screen and thought about the events that had transpired. “Zhang is psycho, isn’t he?” he asked.
“Not at all. In fact, he’s a lawyer.”
“His name is Zhang Chao,” the officer said. “He opened his own practice and he only takes serious criminal cases. He’s pretty famous.”
“Zhang Chao, criminal defense lawyer?” the captain frowned. “Sounds familiar. Last year we gave a case to the prosecution. The defendant hired Zhang for the trial and the court gave the defendant a minimum prison sentence. My friend at the Procuratorate was furious.”
The deputy chief peered at screen as he asked, “Why did he bring the body to the metro station?”
“To get rid of it.”
“Get rid of it?” the deputy chief’s eyes grew wide. “At the metro station?”
“He said wanted to take the metro to the edge of town so he could dump the whole suitcase in the lake.”
The deputy chief looked incredulous. “I don’t buy that. Who takes the metro to dump a body? Why didn’t he drive?”
“Zhang killed the victim in an apartment that he owned. When he realized he had killed Jiang, he was so afraid that he stayed in the apartment all night. The next morning, he decided he would go to the middle of nowhere, dump the body, and destroy the evidence. But before he left he had a few drinks. He thought if he was caught driving drunk, someone would discover the body. So he decided to take a taxi, but then his taxi was rear-ended near the metro station. Zhang was certain that the traffic police would discover the body. So, he made up an excuse about something urgent, took his suitcase and left. Since the closest metro station had opened recently, he hoped that the security check might be lax. He planned to blab his way past the guards and go to the outskirts, but he never even made it to the platform.”
The officer continued, “He said the alcohol had gone to his head and he was not thinking straight. He panicked, spouting all kinds of nonsense. Now that he’s sober, he says that he doesn’t remember exactly what happened at the metro station.”
The deputy chief nodded and gave careful instructions to the officer. “Remember, he’s a criminal defense lawyer and he knows exactly how our investigations work. Don’t take his word for what happened, he might try and do something clever. We can’t let him poke holes in our argument—everything he says in his testimony needs to be backed up by evidence. This is a major case. Don’t screw up.”
The captain nodded and added, “The coroner will come by this evening to do an autopsy, and we’ve sent officers to do a preliminary check of the crime scene. We’ll do another sweep when it’s light tomorrow and make sure the evidence matches his confession. Then we’ll double check for inconsistencies. If everything goes smoothly, I think we can wrap this up in three or four days.”
The homicide was investigated over the next few days, and everyone paid attention to the details so they would not have a slipup.
Zhang Chao admitted his guilt and was cooperative with the police. When he was taken to the scene of the crime a day later, he identified the murder weapon, the location of the crime, and other evidence. The forensics team took the autopsy and the material evidence reports and verified Zhang’s version of events. The evidence and his statement matched perfectly, forming a chain.
The homicide included such a big scene at the metro that it stayed a hot topic in the news and on social media for several days. The local news stations were constantly broadcasting updates and reports.
The main facts of the case were discovered at the beginning of the investigation.
The victim was Jiang Yang, a prosecutor at the Pingkang Procuratorate nearby. Jiang was a student of Zhang’s and the two remained close after Jiang graduated. He and Zhang had been friends for over ten years and were apparently close friends.
But when Jiang Yang worked as a prosecutor, he accepted bribes, paid people off, gambled, and had affairs with multiple women. His wife had divorced him a few years before the incident. Soon after the divorce, he was reported to the disciplinary commission and sentenced to three years in prison.
After being released from prison, he frequently met with Zhang Chao in Jiangzhou. Zhang Chao generously let Jiang Yang stay in his parents’ old apartment since nobody was living there anymore. Zhang encouraged his former student to pull himself together and find a job. Jiang Yang said he was turning a new leaf. He said he couldn’t stand that his ex-wife was renting a house and raising their child, and he asked for 300,000 yuan to buy a house in Qingshi for her. He told Zhang he wanted to remarry her and start a new business.
Being a kind person, Zhang Chao lent him the money. One month later, Jiang Yang was at his door again, asking for more money. Zhang was suspicious and asked Jiang Yang’s ex-wife what was going on. It turned out that she had not heard anything about Jiang Yang’s plans to buy the house or get back together. After Zhang demanded an explanation, Jiang finally admitted that he had gambled away all of the money Zhang lent him. Zhang was furious and wanted his money back, but Jiang stubbornly asked for more money, hoping to try and win back the money he had lost. The two had argued many times, and two days before Jiang’s death, they came to blows. Both men were taken to the police station where they were given a warning—the assault would be going on their personal files.
In the evening on March 1, Zhang Chao went looking for Jiang Yang, and their argument became violent yet again. In the heat of the moment, Zhang strangled Jiang with a rope.
In the aftermath, Zhang Chao did not know what to do. He sat in his parents’ old apartment all night. The next day, he decided to dispose of the body. He was drunk and panicked when he attempted to get rid of the body, which was why he was caught at the metro station.
There was more than enough evidence to convict Zhang. A CCTV camera showed his car entering the gated community where the victim was staying at 7:00 pm. The autopsy placed the time of death between 8:00 pm and midnight—the evidence suggested the attacker faced the victim and strangled him with a rope. Zhang Chao’s DNA was found on a rope and a large amount of Zhang Chao’s skin tissue was found under the victim’s fingernails. Zhang Chao also had injuries on his neck and arms, suggesting a struggle.
The taxi driver who drove Zhang Chao told the police that Zhang had a large suitcase which was clearly heavy. Zhang tried to lift it several times before finally heaving it into the trunk. The taxi driver had offered to help, but Zhang refused. The driver thought Zhang smelled like he had been drinking. The driver also said that his taxi was rear-ended by a car near one of the exits of the metro station, and Zhang Chao said he was in a hurry, so he rushed out of the car and disappeared. The statement matched with everything the police found in their investigation.
Even though the case seemed cut and dried, dozens of reporters were hoping to get an interview with the offender to hear his side of the story. After deliberating for a few minutes, the police asked Zhang if he would be willing to have an interview. He agreed and the police allowed a handful of reporters to conduct an interview at the detainment center, making sure to keep Zhang behind the security glass.
Zhang did not say anything out of the ordinary during the interview. When he was asked if he regretted his actions, he paused and then said in a calm voice, “I have nothing to be remorseful about.”
But even this sentence did not raise any red flags. Nobody saw the funny glint in Zhang Chao’s eyes.
 According to the Law on the Organization of People’s Procuratorates, the People’s Procuratorates are the State’s organs for legal supervision that exercise the power of prosecution. They are sometimes called the Prosecutor-General’s Office.