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Questions remain, however, over how the party intends to deal with Mr. Bo, who was dismissed in March as the powerful Communist Party boss of the major city of Chongqing and suspended from the 25-member Politburo.

Mr. Bo at one time was considered a candidate for the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee at the upcoming 18th Communist Party national congress, and it isn’t clear whether the party will deal with him internally or put him on trial and risk further harm to its image.

The case for months has engrossed ordinary Chinese, among whom Mr. Bo remains broadly popular, especially with the working classes drawn by his populist flair and policies such as building affordable housing and cracking down on property developers and others he labeled gangsters. Many have tended to see his downfall as a politically motivated takedown engineered by his party rivals.

“I think it is just a political struggle, it has nothing to do with us ordinary people. The 18th party congress is coming very soon, so it must have something to do with that. I don’t really care about it,” said a Beijing investment adviser who would only give his surname, Zhai, because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Mr. Tang said the court considered Gu’s testimony against others, her confession and repentance, and her psychological impairment as mitigating factors in sentencing. But he said it rejected claims that Heywood’s threats had prompted the crime, saying there was no evidence he intended to make good on them.

During Gu’s trail, the court was told she had suffered from chronic insomnia, anxiety and depression and paranoia in the past, and that she had been dependent on medication, but it found that she willfully carried out the murder.

An amendment to China‘s criminal law in 2011 said that criminals with life sentences who show proper conduct can have their life sentences cut to 25 years. Chinese law also allows for medical parole, so Gu could be released after serving even less time.

For their part in the cover-up, former Chongqing police Deputy Chief Guo Weiguo was sentenced to 11 years, leading Officer Li Yang was given 11, and Officers Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi were given five years each.

Former Chongqing police Chief Wang Lijun, whose February flight to a U.S. Consulate revealed suspicions that Heywood had been murdered, is expected to go on trial soon. Gu allegedly told Mr. Wang about her crime, but it isn’t known if he’ll be charged in relation to the murder.

Security was tight outside the court on Monday, with police officers standing guard around the building and at least a half dozen SWAT police vans parked on each corner.

Gu’s arrest and the ouster of her husband sparked the biggest political turbulence in China since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Lawyers and political analysts said politics appeared to weigh heavily on the verdict, with the verdict on Gu apparently calibrated to assuage demands for justice without being overly harsh.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the outcome ignored legal strictures that would have required the death penalty, given that Gu had admitted to committing premeditated murder.

“Although I welcome this verdict, it doesn’t actually stand up from a legal standpoint,” Mr. Pu said.

Peking University law Professor He Weifang said political considerations were clearly behind the relative leniency shown to Gu.

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