• Sat
  • Jul 26, 2014
  • Updated: 5:15am
The Hongcouver
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 6:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 2:54pm

'I strangled her by accident in a blindfolded pillow fight': A killer’s explanation that only Beijing’s high court buys

Latest twist in case of slain Vancouver student Amanda Zhao could set back China-Canada judicial cooperation

BIO

Ian Young is the SCMP's former International Editor. A journalist for more than 20 years, he worked for Australian newspapers and the London Evening Standard before arriving in Hong Kong in 1997. There he won or shared awards for excellence in investigative reporting and human rights reporting, and the HK News Awards Scoop of the Year. He moved to Canada with his wife in 2010 and is now the SCMP's Vancouver correspondent.
 

Is it possible to kill someone in a pillow fight? And if so, is it possible to do so by accidentally strangling them to death, a process requiring several minutes of intense effort, without realising what is happening?

Both propositions sound ludicrous. But they represent the Beijing High People’s Court’s preferred version of events, in its decision last week to overturn the murder conviction of Li Ang, who killed girlfriend Amanda Zhao in the Vancouver satellite city of Burnaby on October 9, 2002.

Li, the son of a senior retired PLA officer, fled to China after Zhao’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase. Beijing authorities refused to allow his extradition to Canada, since both Li and the victim were Chinese, but Li was eventually convicted of murder by a Chinese court in 2012. That verdict was hailed as the result of landmark cooperation and evidence-sharing between Canadian and Chinese police and other authorities.

But the result of Li’s appeal last week - in which his conviction was changed to manslaughter and his life sentence reduced to seven years – casts a shadow over future cooperation, according to Vancouver community activist Gabriel Yiu. Yiu has acted as an advocate for Zhao’s impoverished Chinese parents, who used their life savings to send their only child to study in Canada.

Li, who changed his name to Li Jiaming after the killing, will go free in 2016.

“This case showed how to bring both sides together and prosecute a serious case,” said Yiu. “But from now on, people in Canada, including people in government, will be a bit skeptical about the results of cooperating with China on these kind of matters.”

The appeal result has been widely attributed to the claim that Zhao was killed as a result of a pillow fight that somehow turned deadly. But it is only a close reading of the Beijing court’s 32-page ruling that reveals the utter implausibility of Li’s description of events. Not only did he claim to have accidentally killed Zhao in a pillow fight, he said that it all took place while he was blindfolded, leaving him oblivious to Zhao’s death struggles.

“Li Jiaming and Zhao played ‘pillow fight’, which involved blindfolding of their eyes with pillow cases and attacking each other without knowing which part of the body was exactly hit,” the court ruling said as it described the results of Li’s interrogation.

“As the pillow fight went on, Li Jiaming felt that Zhao had increased her force and strength when she hit him, so Li Jiaming did the same to her. They hugged each other and rolled on the bed, harassing each other with the pillow…Li Jiaming hugged Zhao from behind, with his hands pulling both ends of the pillow that covered Zhao from her head to chest. He pulled the pillow tight from behind, so tight and strongly that he felt Zhao’s body turning weak.”

But it was only after a few minutes, when Zhao had finally stopped moving, that Li “sensed she might be dead” and released his grip. Li and his cousin Zhang Han, who lived with the couple in their basement flat, then crammed Zhao’s body into a 60cm by 80cm suitcase and dumped it 100km away on the shores of Stave Lake, where it was found by hikers.

Wracked by guilt, Zhang confessed his role in the tragedy and named Li as the killer in a letter to Zhao’s parents, which he concluded by writing “I’m sorry” 60 times.

In last Monday’s ruling, the High People’s Court said Li “felt Zhao using stronger force when they played pillow fight. Li thus reacted by using stronger force that eventually led to the victim’s death. Case evidence proved that Li’s conduct can be seen and confirmed as an instance of negligence leading to the death of the victim in a criminal case of negligent manslaughter.”

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The court rejected Li’s family’s assertions that the entire case was bogus, that his confession was false and possibly a result of torture, and that DNA and other forensic evidence provided by Canadian police could not be trusted.

A civil suit ruling that requires Li to pay 1.13 million yuan in compensation to Zhao’s parents was upheld. The Canadian case against Zhang, who had been charged with being an accessory to murder, was dropped after a judge ruled that his interrogation had been conducted improperly.

Yiu, who spoke to Zhao’s family a few hours after Monday’s ruling, said they were “totally shocked and devastated”.

Zhao’s mother, Yang Bao-ying, said in a statement: “We neither understand nor accept the ruling. The ruling changes our opinion about the fairness of the law. The ruling abundantly represents that the law can be bought with power or money in China.”

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.

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53854d25-37ec-46cd-99ca-35010a320969
Same as US court believes O.J. Simpson did not kill his wife :)
caractacus
Not the same. A jury was not sure OJ did it, but a civil court found he did it.
Eh, you don't have juries in China do you?
53854d25-37ec-46cd-99ca-35010a320969
Jury or not, it is flaw in justice system let criminals walk free and it is not limited only to Beijing. By the way, the absent of "jury trial" does not automatically means its justice system is less just. Many countries do not use juries (India, Taiwan, Singapore) or highly restrict the use of it (Japan and Korea).
clc2
This was not a jury or a trial judge, it was China's high court.
CatherineOhlLaw
The rule of Law in china, just like this pillow : smothers you in the dark.
Byebye
Pillow of toxin material? Where was it produced?
scmpgt
High People's Court is certainly for "High People".
blue
Shouken is the first Wu Mao Dang stupid enough to comment. As you can clearly see, his opinion pure intellectual diarrhea. He is of course free to express it, and we are free to ridicule it.
Beaker
The rule of law coming to HK.
chuchu59
Sentiments aside, what was the motive for the murder that the plaintiff,if any, advanced. Furthermore, what led the judge to state that the interrogation had been conducted improperly. It must be shown that he was coerced to confess to cast doubt on the process of interrogation. The decision that is now reached is questionable on a number of issues. The fact that the accused is the son of a retired PLA official does not help his cause in the court of public opinion though.

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