However much a U.S. defendant might complain about getting railroaded, there's really just no comparison with China, where the nephew of a controversial political activist has been charged with a capital offense and barred from choosing his own lawyers. Chen Guangcheng, who's waiting for permission to come to the United States to study after his escape from house arrest, has said China would retaliate against his family, and that retaliation is well underway.

Chen Guangcheng's nephew, Chen Kegui (at right, above), described using a knife to defend himself against an attack at his home, led by a local official. His lawyers appeared to be preparing a case for self-defense, but now those lawyers have been dismissed and new ones assigned by the Yinan legal aid center, Reuters quotes one of Chen Kegui's fired lawyers: " 'According to Chinese law, a criminal suspect can only be commissioned two lawyers. Two have been assigned to him, so both of you can't be his lawyers.' "

As Chen Kegui's fate becomes murkier, the allegations against him are becoming clearer in Friday's round of coverage. One lingering question was how he could have been charged with homicide when it wasn't clear anybody actually died. But on Friday The Guardian translated the charge against him as "attempted murder," not manslaughter. And Reuters' Sui-Lee Wee had this perspective: 

Some legal experts say the charge has been trumped up against him, while others say a death is not necessary for the charge of homicide to hold.

"If I have intent to cause harm and take steps toward that end, I can be convicted of that offence under Chinese law whether I successfully carry out the harmful act or not," Joshua Rosenzweig, an independent human rights researcher in Hong Kong, said in emailed comments.

Still, Chen Kegui could face the death penalty for his alleged crime. Having his own attorney might at least make him feel like he has a chance at a lesser sentence.