Shao Tong, 20, who had gone to the U.S. to study engineering, was strangled to death in Iowa in September 2014, her body stuffed in the trunk of her own car.
Her boyfriend, Li Xiangnan, who fled to China shortly after she was killed and was on the run for eight months, was found guilty of intentional homicide, a statement from Intermediate People's Court in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou said Wednesday.
Li, a former University of Iowa student, had pleaded guilty at a trial in March attended by two Iowa state detectives and the case prosecutor from Iowa City.
Li could have faced the death penalty for his crime, which the court said was premeditated, but the court statement said a more lenient sentence was appropriate. Under Chinese Criminal Law
, life imprisonment could be commuted to no less than 13 years in jail.
"Li voluntarily gave himself up and has strongly expressed remorse, " the court statement said, adding that the victim's family had accepted civil compensation.
During the trial, Li denied the crime was premeditated and said he bought a one-way plane ticket two days before her death because he was under enormous pressure and wanted to return to China.
'What can we do?'
Shao Chunsheng, the victim's father, told CNN he wasn't satisfied with the verdict.
"We were at least expecting a death sentence with reprieve even though we had accepted the compensation."
"But what can we do? We can only accept the judgment."
Shao told CNN in March that he had accepted two million yuan ($308,000) in compensation from Li's family right before the trial started. Li's lawyer Sheng Shaolin confirmed the amount.
Shao Tong, an Iowa State University international student, was first reported missing by her roommate on September 18, 2014. It wasn't until September 26 that police in Iowa found her body.
By then Li, a "person of interest" sought for questioning by Iowa authorities, had already bought a one-way ticket and returned to China.
He turned himself in to Chinese police in May 2015, and was charged with intentional homicide in June.
Iowa authorities have credited an April 2015 CNN story with drawing attention to the investigation, which had stalled because there is no extradition treaty between China and the United States.
In that piece
, Shao's father urged both U.S. and Chinese authorities to do more to seek justice for his daughter.
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.
The case attracted a huge amount interest in China and particularly among the 300,000 Chinese students in the United States.