In April 1996 a woman’s body was found in public toilets. She’d been raped and murdered. Police instantly suspected 18-year-old Huugjilt who’d found her. He was found guilty of murder then executed for his crimes. But years later, new evidence emerged…Had an innocent man been killed?

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18-year-old Huugjilt worked at a local textile factory in Hohhot – the capital city of Inner Mongolia, China.

His mum, Shang Aiyun, and dad, Li Sanren, adored their son. A hard worker, he stayed at the factory’s dorms.

Friendly, kind and witty, he was very popular. He often enjoyed nights out with his friends. And, on 9 April 1996, it was no different.

Huugjilt had just finished having dinner with a mate when they made their way back to their dorms at the factory. But as he passed public restrooms nearby, the teenager heard a woman cry out.

Concerned, he went into the toilets to investigate. But nothing could have prepared Huugjilt for the sight he found…

The body of a woman lay on the floor. She’d been raped and murdered. Huugjilt’s friend was terrified and urged him not to tell the police. He feared the blame might be put on them.

But that wasn’t Huugjilt’s nature. So, he was honest, alerting police and also his superiors at the factory.

But instead of praising him for his bravery, police arrested Huugjilt and charged him with rape and murder. From the off, Huugjilt pleaded his innocence.

But, after 48 hours of police interrogations, Huugjilt allegedly confessed to the crime. After being convicted in court, Huugjilt faced the death penalty.

And just 61 days later, in the June, Huugjilt was executed by a firing squad. Shang and Li were distraught. Their beloved son was gone. He was only 18, had his whole life ahead of him. His good name had been tarnished too.

Despite his execution, his parents were still certain their son was innocent. Supporters even accused the police of bullying the confession out of Huugjilt.

Many others, however, praised the police for their efforts in solving the murder so quickly. And with the killer now gone, people could walk the streets safe.

But years on, in 2005, suspected serial rapist, Zhao Zhihong, was captured by police. He admitted to 10 murders, including a woman in a Hahholt bathroom in 1996, who he’d also raped.

His confession turned the whole case on its head. If Zhihong was telling the truth, it meant Huugjilt had been too. That an innocent man had been killed for a crime he didn’t commit.

Finally, in December 2014, Zhihong appeared in court after authorities decided to reopen the case. He was eventually found guilty of the 1996 murder and rape. The attack in the Hahhot restrooms had allegedly been his first.

And when Huugjilt was wrongfully convicted, Zhihong went on to commit even more sickening crimes. He was sentenced to death. He was also deprived of his political rights for life, fined 53,000 Yuan – about £5,600 – and ordered to pay victim compensation.

The court also overturned Huugjilt’s conviction, claiming there’d been insufficient evidence in the initial verdict. Shang and Li were so relieved he’d been exonerated.

Later, they visited Huugjilt’s grave and burned a copy of the verdict, to comfort his spirit. They wanted to tell him that his wrongful conviction had been redressed.

PA Images - Huugjilt's family

Huugjilt’s family (Photo: PA Photos)

‘I knew you were innocent, but I could not help you,’ Shang said, breaking down at his grave. ‘I miss you so much.’

In time, 27 officials were punished with warnings and demerits for the wrongful execution of the teen. The Inner Mongolia Higher People’s Court also ordered Huugjilt’s parents to receive around two million Yuan in compensation – more than £200,000.

But no amount of money could bring their son back. He’d reported a crime to the police, only to be wrongly convicted for his act of courage.

Now Huugjilt’s poor parents are left to grieve for their son, whose honesty ended up costing him his life.