(CBS/AP) BEIJING - It ended in one day. The secretive yet high-profile trial of Gu Kailai and a household aide for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood lasted just about four hours, with a guilty verdict all but assured and the possibility of a death sentence looming.
Gu, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, sat in the courtroom seemingly impassive as prosecutors laid out their case: how she lured him to a hotel room, got him drunk and personally poured poison down his throat, reports CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen.
The speed of the trial, while not necessarily unusual for China, underscored the ruling Communist Party's anxiousness to put the scandal behind them quickly. The party is embarrassed because there are allegations of corruption that could reach in to the party's highest ranks.
Most observers think the trial is more about the party going after Bo, who was party boss of one of China's biggest cities. He was on his way to a seat in the elite politburo that runs China but was suddenly stripped of his leadership role.
International media were barred from the courtroom, so details of the case against Gu were provided afterward by Tang Yigan, the court's deputy director.
He said prosecutors told the court that Gu sent her aide, Zhang Xiaojun, to meet and accompany Heywood from Beijing to Chongqing, where Bo was the Communist Party boss.
Gu and Heywood were business associates but had had a dispute over economic interests, according to Tang, whose account matched details from the indictment reported in official media several weeks ago. Gu thought Heywood was a threat to her son, 24-year-old Bo Guagua, and decided to have him killed, said Tang, who did not specify what sort of threat Heywood posed.
On the night of Nov. 13, Gu went to Heywood's hotel and drank alcohol and tea with him."When Heywood was drunk and vomited and wanted to drink water, she then took pre-prepared poison that she had asked Zhang Xiaojun to carry, and poured it into Heywood's mouth, killing him," Tang said.
Heywood's friends and family have said he was never a heavy drinker, and they rejected investigators' initial conclusion that he drank himself to death. His body was cremated and no autopsy was performed.
Tang said the prosecutors believed the facts of the crime were clear and the evidence sufficient, and that "Gu Kailai is the main culprit and Zhang is the accomplice."
Before Thursday, the 53-year-old Gu had not been seen in months and has never publicly offered her side of the story.
The scandal came to light in February, when longtime Bo aide and former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun suddenly fled to the U.S. Consulate in the city of Chengdu. Apparently fearing for his safety if he remained in Chongqing, Wang told American diplomats about his suspicions that Heywood had been murdered and that Bo's family was involved.
However, in a surprising twist, a man who attended the trial said the court heard evidence that Gu had reported her plans to Wang, the police chief, before she committed the crime as well as after the deed was done. "Wang Lijun knew all about it, and even participated in planning it," the man said on condition of anonymity due to the secrecy surrounding the case and fear of government retaliation.
Gu's lawyer raised questions about how Heywood died, pointing to tests that showed the level of cyanide found in a blood sample from Heywood's body was not enough to cause death and that the blood sample appeared to have been tampered with, according to the man who attended the trial.
State broadcaster CCTV aired video during the day showing a calm-looking Gu being led into court with a sheaf of papers in one hand. She and Zhang both wore white shirts and neither was handcuffed. In an apparent indication of the government's desire to keep the trial low-key, no report on the trial appeared on CCTV's main evening news broadcast, which is more widely seen and where sensitive content is more stringently controlled.
Chinese officials agreed to let two British diplomats attend court, but the British Embassy in Beijing said it would offer no statement on the proceedings.
The quick trial contrasts with often-lengthy high-profile murder cases around the world. But it's common in China, where even the verdict can be delivered the same day in death penalty cases.
"It's very unusual for criminal trials (in China) to extend beyond a day," said Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights researcher based in Hong Kong who said trials are short in part because witness testimony is usually written, instead of delivered in person.
"It's very rare to see what you see in other countries, where a trial starts on one day and extents through many, many days," he said. "The process is very structured. A Chinese criminal trial is not a free-flowing process."