09/19/2011 01:58 EDT | Updated 11/19/2011 05:12 EST

Amanda Zhao Murder: Trial In China For Man Accused Of Killing Girlfriend In B.C. Set To Begin


VANCOUVER - Nearly nine years after their daughter's body was found stuffed in a suitcase in a wooded area outside Vancouver, the parents of a murdered Chinese exchange student are getting their day in court.

Jia-ming Li, who has changed his name from Ang Li, will go on trial Tuesday in Beijing for the October 2002 murder of 21-year-old Amanda Zhao, announced B.C. New Democrat MLAs Jenny Kwan and Mike Farnworth.

Li, who was once Zhao's boyfriend, became a suspect in the murder but fled to China before charges were laid against him in British Columbia.

His trial was initially scheduled for July 5.

Kwan and Farnworth, who have agreed to represent the family in Canada, said they learned about the trial in a Sunday email from Baoying Yang, Zhao's mother.

"We will wait to see the proceedings of the court and hopefully the family will find the answers that they have been looking for and hopefully there is closure for the family as a result of the court proceedings in the days ahead," Kwan said.

In a translated email, Yang thanked members of Parliament, the B.C. legislature and media for their support.

Kwan said the case proceeded when the Chinese government agreed to waive the death penalty and the Canadian government agreed to share information.

Farnworth called the agreement between Canada and China "precedent setting."

"Even though it's not taking place in Canada, the fact that it's taking place in China, I think, is something that I think British Columbians will be happy to see," he said.

However, David Matas, a Winnipeg lawyer who recently represented a client accused of masterminding a $10-billion smuggling ring in China, said Canadian and Chinese legal systems are very different.

Matas said there is no separation between the executive branch of government and the judiciary and that defendants aren't necessarily allowed to call or cross-examine witnesses during a trial.

He said the process also relies heavily on statements and written confessions.

"The system is highly politicized and when the government or the party's involved, it's impossible to get a fair trial. But where the government or the party is not involved the system has been improving."

The murder case dates back to October 2002 when Li reported Zhao missing to police.

Less than two weeks later, her body was found by a group of hikers near Stave Lake, in Mission, B.C., about 80 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Police questioned Li, who was Zhao's live-in boyfriend, and initially said the man was not a suspect.

Li told police Zhao failed to return to their home in Burnaby, B.C., after going to a grocery store to buy cooking oil.

But three days after her body was found, Li returned to China.

In May 2003, RCMP charged Li with second-degree murder, and in February 2004 confirmed that he was questioned by police in Beijing.

However, the matter became mired in jurisdictional issues between the B.C. and federal government and the fact that there's no extradition treaty between Canada and China.

Farnworth said the case went forward because publicity captured the federal government's attention and Zhao's family visited Canada.

China eventually agreed to waive the death penalty.

"When that happened that paved the way for the sharing of the information, the evidence with Chinese officials, and that's resulting in the decision to go ahead with the trial in China and the real prospect of justice being served for the Zhao family," Farnworth said.

Kwan, who has been critical of how police handled the case in the past, said the RCMP apologized when they met with the Zhao family in 2008.

"The court system here, and police system, actually failed the Zhao family," Kwan said. "There's no mistake about that. Ang Li was allowed to leave the country and fled back to China."