Man avoids death penalty with unique inventions

Updated: 2016-09-20 10:12


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A man escaped prison twice in his 20s and saved himself from the death penalty because of his inventions.

Li Hongtao, born in 1966, was a graduate student from Zhejiang University, one of China's top institutes, with a major in electronic engineering. He used his professional expertise for crimes but also saved himself at the last minute.

On April 18, 1992 Li was accused of fraud after he helped friends swindle a company out of 80,000 yuan (about $14,540 in 1992) with a fake seal, but he managed to escape from the public security bureau in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province.

He then took a train to Guiyang, capital of the neighboring Guizhou Province, and stole a car with a self-made key. On the run, he even stole a police car and drove it back to Kunming to visit his mistress several times.

Li was caught again in 1992 at the university where his mistress studied and then confessed to crimes ranging from fraud, running from police and stealing cars, which took skeptical officers more than four months to investigate.

He warned that he could make a second escape, but was ignored. Irritated, Li and two intimates dug through the walls of their detention center in Nov. 1992. But the other two intimates were immediately caught.

Three weeks later, on Dec. 8, Li was caught again, for the third time, in Liuzhou, a city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a province neighboring Yunnan. He was then sentenced to death for crimes of fraud, escape and theft on Nov. 1, 1993.

But this time, he discovered an enthusiasm for electronic engineering, and was determined to invent a brushless excitation motor, a compenent used in power generating facilities.

Li conducted experiments in the prison with the approval of police officers. They even invited experts to solve problems he confronted.

On the day before his execution, his experiments worked, which bought him one more year to continue them and postponed his death.

In 1995, his invention of a brushless excitation motor won first prize in Yunnan province and received a patent.

Li made many other inventions in the prison and got more patents, including development of a computer-controlled prison monitoring and management system based on his escape experiences.

Li, the former criminal sentenced to death, was released in 2009.