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Chinese court overturns verdict in Amanda Zhao killing

ang Baoying, mother of murdered Chinese student Amanda Zhao outside the gate of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, holding her plea for help, February 18, 2004.

Geoffrey York/The Globe and Mail

The mother of a young woman who was slain while studying in Canada more than a decade ago says she's lost faith in the Chinese justice system after an appeal court overturned a finding of first-degree murder against Amanda Zhao's boyfriend and instead found him guilty of manslaughter.

The high court ruling means Li Ang, who lived with Ms. Zhao before her body was found stuffed in a suitcase near a Fraser Valley lake in 2002, will be released from custody in two years instead of spending the rest of his life in prison – an outcome that prompted the victim's family to blast the Chinese justice system as corrupt.

"We neither understand nor accept the ruling. The ruling changes our opinion about the fairness of the law. The ruling abundantly represents that the law can be bought with power or money in China," Yang Baoying, Ms. Zhao's mother, wrote in a statement.

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The statement was read aloud Monday by NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, who worked with Ms. Zhao's family as the case languished for years. China claimed jurisdiction because both Ms. Zhao and Mr. Li were Chinese citizens, and the RCMP initially refused requests to co-operate with Chinese investigators.

Ms. Zhao's parents visited Canada in October, 2008, and held a tearful news conference. The RCMP then agreed to co-operate with Chinese officials and Mr. Li was arrested in July, 2009. His trial began in September, 2011, and he was convicted of first-degree murder one year later. His family immediately vowed to appeal.

Although she did not provide any direct evidence, Ms. Zhao's mother accused Mr. Li's affluent and well-connected military family of playing a role in the high court's ruling. Ms. Zhao's family, in contrast to Mr. Li's, is poor and spent its life savings to send her to school. Ms. Kwan – who was joined at a downtown Vancouver news conference by fellow MLA Mike Farnworth and community "I feel the pain, in part, of the family, and the sadness that they feel," she told reporters.

Ms. Kwan said the court decided there was a lack of evidence for first-degree murder. Mr. Li had made that argument.

The Globe and Mail previously reported that Mr. Li confessed to the killing shortly after he was arrested in Beijing, saying he had accidentally suffocated Ms. Zhao while they were "playing with pillows."

Mr. Farnworth called the decision "frustrating" and questioned why it took the appeal court nearly two years to deliver a decision, when it typically takes Chinese courts about two months. "It's wrong, but that's what's been decided," he said.

Although Ms. Zhao's family vowed to continue its pursuit of justice, Mr. Yiu said they are out of legal options. The Chinese judiciary is two-level, rendering this decision final, he said. Ms. Kwan said Ms. Zhao's family will never get the justice it seeks.

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The ruling reduces Mr. Li's sentence to seven years in all. He is scheduled for release in June, 2016.

Mr. Farnworth said it is important to note that the attention on the case resulted in an agreement between the federal government and China on how to proceed. He said that provided a template on how to deal with such matters if they ever arise again.

The unprecedented arrangement of the RCMP sharing evidence with Chinese authorities developed after Canada received assurances that Mr. Li would not get the death penalty if convicted.

With a report from Mark MacKinnon

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