The death of Diana O'Brien in Shanghai earlier this month has been given a lot of prominence in the Canadian media. From what I can piece together based on Geoff York's insightful piece about it in the morning's Globe, the alleged murderer, Chen Jun, a migrant worker from a poor village in Anhui, just 18 years-old, had recently been fired from his job in a restaurant near where Ms. O'Brien was lodging in Shanghai. The reason he was let go is because he is too klutzy and shy to do the job properly. So with no job and no money, he turned to petty theft to make ends meet.
Chen forced himself into Ms. O'Brien's apartment as she was unlocking the door to her place after she came home one evening. He threatened her with a knife and gathered up her laptop computer and camera. But unlike most Chinese victims of this sort of crime, instead of just letting him take the stuff and telling him to get out, Ms. O'Brien fought with him and chased Chen Jun down the stairs as he took off with a bag full of her modest possessions. In a panic, Chen then stabbed her to death in the stairwell. It was several hours before anyone noticed that Diana O'Brien had been killed. I do feel very sorry about this.
Chen Jun's story reveals that behind the facade of wealth and modernity in Shanghai most of the people living in that city are poor and scrambling to get by often in desperation. As one of my old friends in Shanghai wrote me about it in an e-mail this morning: "Shanghai is somehow very like what as Dickens wrote about of the 19th century London!"
Canada should thank the Chinese police for their work in solving this case. I also hope that the Canadian Consulate in Shanghai will request permission to attend the accused's trial with a view to ensuring that Chen Jun gets due process and that Diana O'Brien's family and friends can be assured that the true murderer is being held.
It is most likely that Chen Jun will be sentenced to death for the murder of Diana O'Brien. But I don't think that Mr. Chen deserves to die for what he is alleged to have done considering the circumstances.
March 13, 2009: News reports are that Chen Jun was sentenced to death but the execution delayed for 2 years. I suppose that this means that he will be get life imprisonment if his behaviour in prison is deemed "good" after the two years: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090313/china_model_090313/20090313?hub=TopStories