An interesting detail surfaced amid the reporting Friday that the murder trial for Gu Kailai (at right), the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, would start next week: She's not expected to get the death penalty to which she's exposed under law. The detail came in a story by CNN's Steven Jiang and Jaime FlorCruz, who based their report on a family friend of Gu's. Jiang and FlorCruz write: "If convicted, Gu could face the death penalty, but the friend said her life is expected to be spared." That's one of the first, if not the very first, indications we've gotten about how this trial might pan out for Gu if she's found guilty, which seems likely. Gu is accused of collaborating with a member of her staff to poison Neil Heywood (at left, above), a British businessman who allegedly threatened to reveal she had moved money out of China illegally. Although an anonymous friend of the family may sound a little thin as far as sources go, reporting in China often relies on carefully managed leaks from those inside the stories, and a "family friend" could mean an attorney or official.
A decision not to execute Gu, if she's found guilty of murder, would be an aberration for China, which uses the death penalty an estimated 4,000 times a year, even for non-violent crimes such as drug trafficking and corruption. When tainted milk made its way to the public in 2009, the farmer and salesman behind the scandal were put to death. But the state media have held up Gu's trial as an example of its legal fairness and compassion, so even if she's found guilty, executing her would do little to "strengthen the Chinese people's confidence in the country's legal system," as an editorial in the state-run Global Times wrote last week.