Suspect in Iowa killing to be tried in China

Tong Shao, 20, studied engineering at Iowa State. Her body was found in the trunk of her car in September.

Story highlights

  • Suspect arrested in slaying of Chinese student in Iowa
  • Iowa prosecutor says case will be tried in China
  • Chinese prosecutors have charged Li Xiangnan, the victim's boyfriend, with intentional homicide
  • Victim's father Shao Chunsheng tells CNN he is relieved

(CNN)The man charged with killing a student at Iowa State University will face trial in China and not be extradited to the United States, an Iowa prosecutor says.

The Chinese government announced this week that Xiangnan Li, 23, had been arrested in connection with the killing of Tong Shao, a 20-year-old student from China who had gone to Iowa State to study engineering.
Li was her boyfriend and attended business school at the University of Iowa.
    Authorities said Li was the last one to see Shao alive and had hopped a plane to China shortly after she was killed last September.
    The investigation stalled because there is no extradition treaty between China and the United States. Investigators in Iowa said they felt hamstrung because there was little precedent for such a case -- when a Chinese national flees the United States and is wanted in connection with the killing of another Chinese national.
    "It's certainly been an interesting process," said Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, the lead prosecutor in Iowa. "China would not send him back for us to prosecute him domestically.
    "The only other option the Department of Justice had for us was to ask the Chinese government to prosecute him."
    Lyness credited a CNN story in early April with jump-starting the case. In that piece, Shao's father accused authorities of doing little to seek justice for his daughter.
    "What has she done to deserve such a crime? Why?" said Chunsheng Shao. "We've given all our love to our daughter. I feel my life is meaningless after losing her."
    Iowa prosecutors, working through the U.S. Department of Justice, made a formal request in late April for Chinese investigators to come to Iowa, Lyness said.
    According to the Chinese government, Li turned himself in on May 13 in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou and "was put into criminal detention on that day."
    In early June, Chinese investigators visited Iowa, and U.S. authorities "handed over relevant evidence items, documents and video materials," China's Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.
    On June 19, Wenzhou prosecutors formally charged Li with the intentional homicide.
    "We felt fairly confident that the investigators we met with were very interested in pursuing the case," Lyness said. "But obviously we had no guarantee what would happen once they got back to China.
    "It's a relief that they've actually arrested him and will proceed with prosecution," she said.
    Shao's father had a similar reaction. "They finally caught him," he said. "I feel relieved."
    Shao Tong with her father on a trip to Southeast China's Yunnan Province.
    There is no death penalty in Iowa. Lyness said she expressed to the Chinese investigators that the case not be pursued as a capital one.
    "They couldn't give me assurances," she said. "(But) I think life imprisonment is the most likely option" if Li is found guilty.
    Lyness said she hopes to attend the trial in China in the coming months. "It would be a very good educational opportunity to go over there and see how the Chinese justice system works."
    Shao was first reported missing on September 17, 2014. It wasn't until September 26 that police in Iowa found her body, stuffed in the trunk of her own car.
    By then Li, a "person of interest" sought for questioning by Iowa authorities, had already bought a one-way ticket and returned to China.
    "I'm truly grateful that Chinese and U.S. authorities came together and solved the case eventually," Shao's father told CNN.