Truck driver Zhang Gaoping, 49, is still willing to give strangers free rides, even though a similar ride that he gave ten years ago landed him in jail for a decade.
On the night of May 18, 2003, Zhang Gaoping and his nephew Zhang Hui gave 17-year-old Wang Dong a free ride when they were transporting freight to Shanghai.
They dropped the girl off in the city of Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang Province at 1:50 a.m. the next morning and continued on their way to Shanghai.
Wang's naked body was discovered later that day. The two men became the principal suspects in her death and were detained on May 23, as they were the last people to have seen Wang alive. However, police could not find any physical evidence to charge Zhang and his nephew with the crime.
Zhang Hui was given a death sentence and Zhang Gaoping was sentenced to life in prison on April 21, 2004 for the crime of rape by the Hangzhou Municipal Intermediate People's Court.
The court judgment was changed to a death sentence with a two-year reprieve for Zhang Gaoping and a 15-year prison term for his nephew Zhang Hui during a second trial conducted by the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court on Oct. 19, 2004.
Zhang Gaoping said they were forced to confess to the crime under great pressure and torture from police and their fellow inmates.
They were freed on March 26 this year by the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court, as there was new evidence showing the possibility of another suspect and evidence presented during the previous trial was not enough to support the conviction.
On that day, Zhang Gaofa, along with 16 relatives, drove to Hangzhou in and escorted his brother and son to their home in the village of Qichuan in neighboring Anhui Province. "I want everybody in my village to know that they came back innocent," said Zhang Gaofa. "I even borrowed 20,000 yuan (U.S $ 3,200 s) to buy firecrackers and shoot them off in front of our house."
Zhang Hui is not used to the hearty dishes his mother prepares for him every day, as he has become accustomed to the simple diet he had in prison. His fiancee left him after he was jailed and married someone else.
"I want to find a job first to serve my parents," said Zhang Hui. "I have nothing now and cannot give them a good life." Zhang Gaoping was once one of the richest men in the village, thanks to his booming transportation business. He was even planning to buy more trucks to start a logistics company in 2003.
The unexpected jail sentence crushed his dreams. His wife divorced him and left his two young daughters in the care of their uncle.
His daughters, currently 23 and 20, respectively, dropped out of school and are working at a factory. "How can they survive in the village and how can anybody marry them if they have a 'rapist father'?" Zhang lamented.
Although his health is getting worse due to the hardships he experienced in prison, Zhang said he can still work and will never let his daughters suffer again. Their attorney will ask for compensation from the government soon, Zhang said.
"I will buy a truck with the compensation funds and continue with my transportation business," said Zhang Gaoping. "I will pay for my daughters' dowry." "Sure I will," Zhang said when asked if he would still be willing to give strangers free rides in the future. "But I will do better. I will make sure they arrive at their destination," he said.
Philippines News agency