The family of a 21-year-old Chinese exchange student found dead in B.C. more than a decade ago says a decision to reduce her killer’s verdict from first-degree murder to manslaughter has left them “absolutely stunned.”

Amanda Zhao vanished in October 2002. Her body, strangled and stuffed inside a suitcase, was discovered by hikers 11 days later near Stave Lake in Mission.

Zhao’s then-boyfriend Ang Li fled to China before charges were laid against him in B.C. He was later charged, but could not be extradited to face trial here because of jurisdictional issues.

A Chinese court found Li guilty of her first-degree murder in 2012, and he was sentenced to life behind bars.

Surprise decision

On Monday, a panel of judges changed the verdict in Zhao’s death to manslaughter, effectively reducing the sentence to just seven years.

“They should give him the death penalty,” Zhao’s father said outside of court. “A life for a life.”

With an appeal and time served taken into account, Li could be free in as few as two years.

At a news conference in Vancouver Monday, NDP MLA Jenny Kwan read a statement from Zhao's family.

Kwan, who has kept in touch with the parents since Zhao's death, said they are devastated.

“The ruling…is unacceptable to us,” the translated statement said. “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.”

Zhao’s parents said they were concerned about the fairness of the appeal process, noting Li’s father is a high-ranking Chinese military official.

New details come to light

Kwan said the Beijing High Court’s decision to reduce Li’s sentence was atrributed to a lack of evidence proving first-degree murder.

“It cited the fact that Ang Li and Amanda Zhao were a couple, and that they were having a pillow fight and that there was some force used, and as a result, Amanda Zhao had died,” she said.

According to court documents, Chinese prosecutors had argued any adult should know that suffocating a person for a length of time would result in that person dying.

“As well, it cited the fact that Ang Li had attempted to get rid of the body after Amanda Zhao was murdered, and that ought to indicate intent in terms of murder,” Kwan said.

With time served, Li is set to be released on June 27, 2016.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber