Ang Li, long accused of murdering his girlfriend Amanda Zhao in Burnaby, has been found guilty of murder by a court in China and sentenced to life in prison.
While Li, who has since changed his name to Jiaming Li, is likely to appeal, the verdict brings to an end a decade of frustration for Zhao’s family.
Zhao was a 20-year-old exchange student from China living in a Burnaby basement suite when she was killed in October 2002.
She had been living with Li, her boyfriend and also a Chinese exchange student, who reported her missing. Zhao’s body was found 11 days later in the woods near Mission and two days after that, Li fled to China and he was eventually charged in absentia with murder by the RCMP.
“Our worst nightmare began 10 years ago,” said Zhao’s mother, Baoying Yang, in a statement. “We were shocked to learn about the death of our daughter, we were speechless, numbed and paralyzed.”
The verdict announced last week “finally brings us closure for seeking justice for our daughter.”
Yang expressed thanks to several New Democrats, including MLAs Jenny Kwan (Vancouver-Mount Pleasant) and Mike Farnworth (Port Coquitlam) and former Burnaby-Douglas MP Bill Siksay and MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) for their help in getting to this point.
Kwan said in an interview that the verdict shows it is possible for Canadian and Chinese authorities to cooperate despite the lack of an extradition treaty, and that bringing justice to the Zhao family did not have to take as long as it did.
“This proved in an unprecedented way that it could be resolved. But it took 10 years, 10 years is too long for such a horrific tragedy for anyone … It’s just simply wrong and we can’t let that kind of thing happen.”
She said that shortly after the murder, it was assumed that it was a federal matter so Davies and Siksay set about supporting the family through launching a petition.
While that was happening, Zhao’s mother sent out a letter “crying for help, the words of the mother were absolutely haunting,” explaining the barriers she faced in seeking justice, including being back in China and living on a low income.
Then, Davies received a letter from the federal government stating that since the murder took place in B.C., it was a provincial matter, which is when Kwan and Farnworth, then the critic for the solicitor’s general, took up the case.
After lengthy political wrangling brought no results, they brought Zhao’s parents to Canada four years ago to meet with government and RCMP officials.
“I think that was really the turning point of the case.”
That was also the first time they learned any details of what happened to their daughter, including how she had died, Kwan said.
“The RCMP actually apologized to the family at the end of that meeting,” she recalled, and they committed to seeing the case through.
Through meetings between officials from the RCMP and Canadian government and Chinese officials, an agreement was reached that China would waive the death penalty if there was a conviction. That allowed the RCMP to share its evidence to allow a prosecution to take place in China.
While Chinese authorities were wanting to prosecute the case, they didn’t have the evidence to do so, she explained.
“Until the federal government authorized the RCMP to share that evidence, there was no way that prosecution could take place in China … But first the federal government had to acknowledge it was in their jurisdiction.”
Zhao’s family attended the court hearings, as did Canadian embassy officials, Kwan said.
In addition to a life sentence, Li was ordered to pay the family approximately C $170,000 for “death compensation, funeral expenses, living expenses as dependents, and traffic expenses,” said the verdict.
While Li comes from a well-off family—his father is a high ranking official in the Chinese military—he doesn’t have much money himself, so it’s questionable whether the Zhao’s family will ever be paid.
Nevertheless, there is some closure.
“I am so relieved for the family in the sense that I know this is a day they’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said Kwan. “The family were very, very emotional as you can imagine, and tired. It’s been a very long journey for them. But at the same time, while relieved, it’s bittersweet really, because they know as we do know, that no matter what happens, Amanda will never be at their side.”