Updated at 1:30 p.m. EST on 2012-08-09
A court in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui has ended the murder trial of Gu Kailai, wife of former political rising star Bo Xilai, with the conclusion that she and an accomplice "used brutal means" to murder a British businessman.
Gu, who is charged alongside her former employee Zhang Xiaojun with the "intentional homicide" of Neil Heywood last November, raised no objection in court to the charges, according to an official from the Hefei Municipal Intermediate People's Court in the provincial capital.
"The trial finished this afternoon and the court adjourned," official Tang Yigan told reporters after the proceedings ended.
"The accused [Gu] Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun did not raise objections to the facts and the charges of intentional homicide," Tang said, adding that Gu had been "in good shape and mentally stable" during the seven-hour hearing.
The case forms part of the biggest political scandal to rock the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership since the ouster of former premier Zhao Ziyang in the wake of the military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
Bo, Chongqing's Communist Party chief, was one of China’s most powerful and charismatic politicians until he was sacked in March. He is currently under investigation for unspecified "disciplinary violations."
Tang said the court would "seriously and thoroughly" consider the evidence and the arguments of both sides, and announce a verdict later.
According to an official account of the trial reported by Reuters, Gu and Zhang invited Heywood to Chongqing, and joined him at Room 1605 at Building No. 16 of the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel where he was staying, drinking tea and alcoholic drinks with him.
"After Heywood became intoxicated, vomited and asked for a drink of water, she poured a poison into his mouth that had been prepared beforehand and that she had given to Zhang Xiaojun to bring along, causing Heywood's death," the statement said.
"The Hefei People's Procuratorate believes that the accused [Gu] Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun used brutal means to commit murder, and the facts of the crime are clear and backed by ample evidence."
The statement named Gu as the principal offender, and Zhang as the accessory to the murder, which it said took place on Nov. 13, 2011.
It said the court had heard and viewed the evidence for the prosecution, as well as statements from the prosecution and the defense lawyer. A legal representative of Heywood's family also spoke during the trial.
More than 140 people, including friends and relatives on both sides, British consulate officials, journalists, representatives from the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, and "citizens" attended the trial, it said.
Lawyers involved apparently had reservations about the official version of events.
Beijing-based lawyer Li Xiaolin, a former member of co-defendant Zhang Xiaojun's legal team, was present at the trial.
"The lawyer raised a lot of doubts, such as exactly what sort of poison was supposed to have been used, where they got it from and none of this was made clear," Li said.
"It's over now, and it won't reconvene tomorrow. They won't tell us anything until they have reached a verdict and then a sentence. [Gu and Zhang] most certainly did [speak]. They said a lot. I don't remember it all clearly."
One spectator told Hong Kong's Cable News that the trial had seemed fair to her. "I thought she looked in reasonable spirits," the spectator said. "I thought it was pretty fair. I thought the defense lawyers defended them as well as they were able."
Others said that Gu and Zhang appeared calm throughout the trial, and that both had admitted to the murder charges. Bo's name was apparently not mentioned, spectators were quoted as saying in a number of media reports.
An employee who answered the phone at the law firm of Beijing-based lawyer Shen Zhigeng, who is on Gu's legal team, declined to comment on the case.
"Are you calling about the Gu case? I'm sorry, we can't provide you with anything," she said.
The official version of the trial made no mention of a statement reportedly submitted by Gu's U.S.-based son, Bo Guagua in defense of his mother, which could serve to mitigate the sentence handed down by the court.
Under Chinese criminal law, both Gu and Zhang could face the death penalty, but analysts say Gu is unlikely to face execution.
Gu's trial, which was attended by two officials from the British Embassy in Beijing, could now pave the way for an official announcement regarding her husband, Bo Xilai, according to political analysts.
Threat to son
The official news agency Xinhua has already reported that Gu and Zhang poisoned Heywood as a matter of fact, citing her fears for alleged threats Heywood made to Bo Guagua as a motive.
"The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial," it said when announcing the charges two weeks ago.
A number of human rights activists and reporters from overseas media outlets gathered outside the court in Hefei in heavy rain, amid tight security. Some Gu supporters were taken away from the scene by police, Reuters reported.
Heywood, 41, was discovered dead in a Chongqing hotel, and was quickly cremated after his death was blamed on a drinking binge.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Wen Yuqing and Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated, with additional reporting, by Luisetta Mudie.