Student sentenced for burning classmate

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Tao Rukun, the 17-year-old who set fire to a girl for turning down his romantic advances, was sentenced to 12 years and one month in prison by a district court in Anhui province on Thursday.

The Baohe District People's Court in Hefei handed down the sentence to Tao for the charge of inflicting intentional injury. Zhou Yan, Tao's former classmate, also 17, suffered massive burns to her face and body when she was splashed with lighter fluid and set on fire by Tao in September.

"Zhou Yan's family is not satisfied with Tao's prison sentence of 12 years and one month. They were expecting life imprisonment," Wang Yalin, the lawyer representing Zhou, said after the court announced the outcome on Thursday afternoon.

Though her family was unsatisfied with the result, the girl cannot appeal to a higher court because it is a public prosecution case, said Li Zhixian, another lawyer who was assigned to represent Zhou after her family had applied for legal aid.

"But we lodged a protest against the ruling," she added.

Tao's lawyer and parents declined to comment on the sentence.

The incident became one of the most high-profile cases of the year when it was revealed Tao's parents were local government officials - Tao's father works for the Hefei urban planning bureau and his mother is with the Hefei audit office.

Some questioned the court's fairness and transparency when it presided over the closed-door trial on April 23.

"Media outlets and the general public were both excluded from the hearing only because the defendant is underage, it's conventional," said Han Wei, senior lawyer and partner with Anhui's Zhongtian Law Firm.

"Neither public opinion nor the degree of satisfaction of the injured party should affect the course of justice," said Han.

He added the court was under huge pressure because the majority of society was on the side of Zhou Yan.

Zhou's team of lawyers withdrew their request for supplementary civil compensation on May 4, and decided to begin civil litigation in August, Wang said.

"It's possible that the judge might offer Tao a lower sentence if both of his criminal and civil cases were decided together," said Wu Dong, a senior partner at the Shanghai M&A Law Firm. "Sometimes the court encourages that when the injured party receives enough financial compensation."

Wu said temporarily dropping civil compensation is a legal strategy to maximize Zhou Yan's benefits. Zhou Yan's father Zhou Feng said he would request 3 million yuan ($475,000) compensation from Tao.

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