09/27/2012 08:33 EDT | Updated 11/27/2012 05:12 EST

Beijing court sentences Chinese man to life in prison for murder 10 years ago in Canada

VANCOUVER - The family of Amanda Zhao, a 21-year-old Chinese exchange student who was murdered in the Vancouver area 10 years ago, says the conviction of the young women's killer in a Beijing court marks a victory after a long wait for justice.

Ang Li, 28, was convicted Thursday of murdering Zhao and sentenced to life in prison, a decade after Zhao's body was discovered stuffed in a suitcase in a remote area northeast of Vancouver.

Zhao's mother, Yang Baoying, travelled with her family to British Columbia four years ago to pressure Canadian authorities to do more to ensure Zhao's killer faced justice.

She was assisted then by B.C. politician Jenny Kwan. Kwan read a translated statement in front of reporters in Vancouver on Thursday.

"Our worst nightmare began 10 years ago," Yang said in the statement.

"Since that time, the road to justice has been long and difficult. During that time, we felt hopeless and despair. Justice was beyond our reach. ... The verdict today means that the murderer cannot run from justice — that justice will prevail, no matter how crafty you are. At the end, you will be punished."

Zhao vanished in October 2002. Her body, strangled and stuffed inside a suitcase, was discovered by hikers 11 days later near Stave Lake in Mission, B.C., about 80 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

Li, who has since changed his name to Jia-ming Li, was once Zhao's boyfriend and became a suspect in the murder, but fled to China before charges were laid against him in British Columbia.

He was finally charged in Canada in May 2003, and in February 2004, the RCMP confirmed he was questioned by police in Beijing.

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

China insisted on putting Li on trial in that country, and the RCMP eventually turned over evidence after the Chinese government promised that Li wouldn't face the death penalty if convicted.

A Canadian diplomat was in the Beijing court Thursday, but would not comment.

Kwan, a New Democrat in B.C.'s legislature, said the case illustrates the complications that can arise because Canada lacks an extradition treaty with China.

But she also noted the two countries were able to find a way to co-operate — eventually.

"I think we need to learn about the issues of extradition agreements, or lack thereof, and in those instances to ensure that victims are not further victimized by delays such as this," Kwan told reporters.

"Whether or not there could be arrangements in the future that would deal with situations such as this in an expedited manner without the lengthy delays, I have to believe that those things can be achieved, just like in this case."

Kwan brushed aside questions about whether Li could have received a fair trial in China.

"I think we have to trust that system that took place," she said.

"He could have chosen to come back to Canada at that time and face the warrant and be tried under the Canadian judicial system. There was a choice then for the accused to choose which system to face the music in, and he made a decision."

— With files from The Associated Press