Former UI student arrested in homicide


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Two hundred and seventy-five days after then-Iowa State student Tong Shao’s roommates reported her missing and set an investigation in motion that spanned two continents, Xiangnan Li was arrested in China and charged with intentional homicide.

Li, a former University of Iowa student, was arrested June 19 in China in connection with the slaying of Shao. Officials found Shao’s body in Iowa City roughly nine months ago.

Li surrendered to police in Wenzhou on May 13 and was detained the same day after efforts made by Chinese authorities to locate him.

Thought the crime was allegedly committed on U.S. soil, the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China states the Chinese government applies the law to its citizens even if the crime is committed abroad.

A convicted “intentional killer” could be punished to a death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment moer than 10 years, according to Chinese law. If circumstances are “relatively minor,” the offender could be sentenced to fixed-term of imprisonment ranging from three to 10 years.

Shao was from the coastal city of Dalian, China, a major seaport in the southern Liaoning Province.

Shao, 20, sent her last form of contact on Sept. 8, 2014 — a text message to friends that said she was traveling to Minnesota and that Li would fly back to China for an emergency. Shao was reported missing by her roommates on Sept. 17.

On Sept. 26, authorities discovered her body in the trunk of a Toyota Camry located in the parking lot of Dolphin Lake Point Enclave apartments in Iowa City, where Li lived alone. An employee of the complex had been working with Li to get him a different apartment, and after she couldn’t reach him, she entered the apartment. Spoiled milk sat on the counter. Several luggage items were left in the apartment, court documents say.

Iowa City police named her boyfriend, Li, a former student in the Tippie College of Business, as a person of interest.

Li had flown back to China before they were able to question him; details of the ensuing investigation have since come to light.

Li’s plane left the Eastern Iowa Airport on Sept. 8, 2014; he had made arrangements two days earlier. He arrived in China two days later — and one week before Shao was reported missing by her roommates. Investigators in China contend that Li killed Shao on Sept. 7, 2014.

The Iowa City police, with the nine other agencies ranging from the University of Iowa police to the U.S. Department of Justice, have spent the last months working with Chinese authorities, leading to the arrest.

According to a release from the Iowa City police, they contacted the Chinese Ministry of Public Security once the department determined Li had returned to China.

The Criminal Investigation Bureau of China initiated an investigation, and Zhejiang Province — which is where Wenzhou, China is located — were also assigned to the investigation.

In June, the Criminal Investigation Bureau of China was invited by local and federal law-enforcement officials to send a team to Iowa City to work with the Iowa City and Ames police, as well as the Johnson County Attorney’s Office.

Though the United States currently does not have an extradition treaty with China, according to Chinese law, Li could still be charged.

Wenfang Tang, the UI Stanley Hua Hsia professor of political science and international studies, said the Chinese government does not have legal obligation to send Li back to Iowa City to have a trial in the United States.

Tang said the Chinese government, however, was under a lot of pressure from Shao’s family to find Li.

“I think the Chinese government needed to do something because of the pressure of the girl’s family and public opinion,” Tang said, noting that if Li had a trial in China, it would quiet unrest and still satisfy Shao’s family, who have spoken to international media, including CNN Beijing, about their desire for justice.

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