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Report stirs up unsolved murder case

Updated: 2015-04-06 11:39
By Hua Shengdun in Washington (China Daily USA)

It's been nearly seven months since Shao Tong, 20, a chemical engineering student at Iowa State University, was found in the trunk of her car parked under a tree on the outskirts of Iowa City. She had died of asphyxiation and blunt force trauma, and her body was estimated to be in the car for about three weeks before being discovered on Sept 26.

A 15-pound barbell was found next to her in the Toyota Camry, as well as copies of flight information in the backseat.

The one-way ticket to China was in the name of Li Xiangnan, 23, Shao's boyfriend, a business major at the University of Iowa, who stayed in a hotel with her on Sept 6, flew back to China on Sept 8 and vanished after Sept 10, a CNN report over the weekend said.

The CNN report has stirred renewed discussion within Chinese social media, and according to Zhou Xiaohui, the victim's cousin, grief still haunts the family.

"It's a torment for us because as far as we know, the murderer is still at large," Zhou told China Daily on April 5. "All we are calling for is justice in the case."

On Weibo, the hashtag #FindLi has driven more than 2.2 million views to date and related posts topped 150,000 in two days.

Police records unsealed last January showed Li might "have been angry and jealous that weekend". Two days earlier, Shao had accidentally called Li - or "pocket dialed" him - without realizing it, and he stayed on the line for 30 minutes overhearing her conversation with a friend "complaining about Li and saying things about him that were not nice", said the report.

The two had first met in English training classes in Beijing in the summer of 2011. Li, who is from China's east coast city of Wenzhou, met Shao's mother during a trip to Shao's hometown of Dalian.

Asked about their relationship, cousin Zhou told China Daily that "they were in a relationship at some time, but in terms of to what extent, how was it going, we are not certain."

"She didn't talk too much about it," he said.

Shao's roommate in Ames, Jean, said previously that Li moved into their apartment in the summer of 2013 until his classes began in Iowa City in the fall 2013 and was "not welcomed".

She told CNN that he didn't ask permission to move in and never offered to help clean. "We just didn't want a guy in our apartment. It's not normal," Jean said.

According to a posting on Renren, a Chinese version of Facebook, Shao was at the time of her murder in a relationship with another man named Hu Shikang.

Hu wrote in the Sept 28 posting that he called Shao "dear lioness", saying they had met five years earlier and were in love for almost four years.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said earlier that Li was "wanted for questioning" and "certainly a person of interest" because he "would have information that would be helpful to the investigation".

"When somebody who may be a witness is not in this country, obviously that adds to the complexity," Lyness said.

Ben Liebman, director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies at Columbia Law School, said there is no extradition treaty between the nations, and the likelihood of China handing Li over for questioning was slim.

"China generally does not in any case extradite Chinese citizens, so the most likely outcome - were this person to be found - would be prosecution within China," Liebman said.

Zhu Siyuan, a legal practitioner in Nanjing, agreed. "At present, the key is to ask for more cooperation between China and the US during the criminal investigation," she told China Daily.

China's Ministry of Public Security would not comment on the case. The FBI said that "agents are assisting in the investigation".

In January, Shao's father issued a desperate plea for US officials to share information with Chinese authorities, saying "we now plead with you, the US authorities, to issue an arrest warrant ... and share the evidence you have gathered with the Chinese authorities".

"This honorable act could very well save the life of other innocent and vulnerable victims, and will most assuredly allow the soul of our precious daughter to be comforted and rest in peace," he said.

The father received a call from the Iowa City police in February informing him that an arrest warrant had been issued for Li on a charge of first-degree murder.

"The case concerns judicial process between the two countries, so we are not clear about the exact details," Zhou said.

Sheng Yang in Washington contributed to this story.

 Report stirs up unsolved murder case

Shao Tong, found slain in Iowa, pictured in Facebook photo.


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