A Beijing court has found Li Ang guilty of murdering his girlfriend Amanda Zhao in their shared Burnaby, B.C., apartment 10 years ago.
His sentence is life in prison, according to Ms. Zhao's family.
Reading a prepared statement – her eyes brimming with tears outside the Beijing First Intermediate Court – Ms. Zhao's mother, Yang Baoying, said the verdict gave her "a little comfort." But, she said, "this doesn't return my daughter to me."
The family of Li Ang (who has changed his name to Li Jiaming) is planning to appeal.
The verdict ends a prolonged and unique legal drama that saw the suspect leave Canada shortly after the October 2002 murder. The Globe and Mail has learned that Mr. Li confessed to the killing three years ago, but his mother and lawyers now claim that confession was extracted under torture by Chinese police.
Canadian police sought, and failed, to persuade China to extradite Mr. Li to face charges in British Columbia. Instead, Chinese authorities claimed jurisdiction over the case because both the victim and the accused were citizens of the People’s Republic.
The RCMP was forced to accept the unprecedented claim and – after reportedly securing assurances that Mr. Li would not face the death penalty if convicted – eventually shared evidence with Chinese authorities prosecuting the case.
Mr. Li, however, walked free until 2009. Even since then, the case has taken an unusually long time to come to a verdict. The one and only court hearing occurred last September. The two families were then left in the dark until they were contacted this week and told to attend Thursday’s session in Beijing. (Verdicts in China usually come within a few days or weeks of the trial.)
If no outside factors were taken into account, the court’s decision likely hinged on whether the trio of judges decided to accept the confession of Mr. Li, as well as two given by his long-time friend, Zhang Han, who shared a Burnaby apartment with Ms. Zhao, 21, and Mr. Li, who was 18 at the time.
Mr. Zhang – who grew up in the same Beijing home as Mr. Li – told the RCMP that Mr. Li told him he had murdered Ms. Zhao, and asked for his help disposing of the body. The two men then put the body in a suitcase and drove it out of the city before tossing it in a secluded area near Stave Lake.
However, charges against Mr. Zhang were thrown out in 2004 by a B.C. court, which ruled the RCMP had coerced him into the testimony, and denied him proper access to a lawyer.
Mr. Li’s lawyers say Mr. Zhang again confessed after returning to China in 2009. However, the lawyers claim torture was again used, and say the physical evidence connecting either man to the crime is weak. Mr. Zhang is currently free and living with Mr. Li’s family.
Ms. Zhao’s lower-class family – which spent its life savings sending their daughter to a foreign university – has long complained that Mr. Li’s well-off and well-connected family has been trying to influence the verdict from behind the scenes.
Mr. Li’s mother laughed bitterly about the accusation. “If we were able to do it, my son would have been released a long time ago,” the mother said during an interview with The Globe and Mail, requesting that her own name not be reported.