HANGZHOU - A 28-year-old carpool driver has pleaded guilty to raping and killing a passenger, ending a high-profile case that triggered a safety overhaul of China's hitch carpooling service.
The defendant, Zhong Yuan, pleaded guilty to raping and murdering a 20-year-old woman who booked a hitch carpooling service from Didi Chuxing on Aug 24 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, according to a release from the Wenzhou Intermediate People's Court.
Prosecutors said Zhong, a native of Sichuan province, had chalked up debts after borrowing money from online peer-to-peer lending platforms to fund his gambling habit.
So he decided to rob female passengers while working as a hitch driver for Didi Chuxing, the nation's largest ride-hailing company, the prosecutors added.
On Aug 23, Zhong tried to rob a female passenger, but his efforts failed. The next day, he raped and fatally stabbed a female passenger surnamed Zhao in Yueqing county in Wenzhou. Ms Zhao had boarded the car to meet her friends in Yongjia, also in Wenzhou, to go to a classmate's birthday party.
Zhong was arrested by local police shortly after killing her and was charged with homicide, rape and robbery, according to the court release.
The trial was not open to the public due to privacy concerns for the victim. The court said a verdict would be given at a later date.
The homicide case followed a similar murder in Zhengzhou, Henan province.
A 21-year-old flight assistant was killed on May 6 after hailing a car from Didi Chuxing. The suspect, surnamed Liu, abandoned his vehicle and drowned himself in a river after allegedly killing the passenger, said local police.
The cases led to a national outcry and demands for better security for passengers of car-hailing services.
The Ministry of Transport subsequently announced plans to tighten the regulation of the car-hailing industry.
Didi Chuxing suspended its hitch services and adopted safety measures, such as making it easier for passengers to contact the police in an emergency and having audio and video recordings during rides.
The move, however, sparked heated discussion on whether the surveillance measures to boost passenger safety are an infringement of personal privacy.