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Former UI student Xiangnan Li sentenced to life in prison for murder of Tong Shao

Xiangnan Li
Xiangnan Li

IOWA CITY — Former University of Iowa student Xiangnan Li was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Tong Shao and has been sentenced to life in prison.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness confirmed the verdict and sentencing on Wednesday. She learned of the news Wednesday afternoon from the Department of Justice, she said.

“I’m very happy they convicted him and also that he got the same sentence he would have gotten if convicted here of first-degree murder,” Lyness said.

Li’s conviction brings to close a case that began in Iowa nearly two years ago and ended in China after Chinese authorities took over the case last year.

Li is accused of killing Shao — an Iowa State University student — on Sept. 7, 2014. The pair of Chinese international students checked into a hotel in Nevada, Iowa, on Sept. 5 and Shao was last seen alive at the hotel on Sept. 6. Police said Li made arrangements to fly back to China that same day.

Shao was later reported missing by her roommates and her body was found in the trunk of her car on Sept. 26 in Iowa City. Authorities said Shao was strangled. Chinese prosecutors said Li purchased a suitcase and two dumb bells and intended to sink the body in a nearby pond, but abandoned that plan.

During a trial in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Providence, Li admitted to killing Shao after a falling out over her alleged new boyfriend, according to a CNN report.


Li was identified as a person of interest in the trial from the onset of the investigation, but a lack of extradition treaty with China hampered the progress of the criminal case. Li eventually turned himself into law enforcement in Wenzhou on May 13, 2015.

In June 2015, Chinese officials came to Johnson County and Lyness turned over the case against Li after several days of meetings. Later in June, Li was charged in China with intentional homicide.

Two Iowa City police investigators and an assistant Johnson County attorney went to China in March to observe the proceedings. Li admitted guilt during the trial, but at the time, Chinese authorities said they would not release the verdict or sentence for up to six months.

An attorney for Shao’s parents told CNN they accepted 2 million yaun — about $308,000 — in compensation from Li’s family before the start of the trial.

Although Lyness initially expressed concerns with turning over the case to the Chinese, on Wednesday she praised their work and the unique circumstances of the collaboration.

“I think it really is a great example of the United States and China working together to try to bring justice for a victim of crime,” she said. ”We’re very pleased with the results … We’re just very pleased with how it went.”

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