Student pleads guilty to killing 9-year-old Cecilia Zhang

A young student from Shanghai pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in the death of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang, who was kidnapped from her Toronto bedroom in October 2003.

A young student from Shanghai pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in the death of Cecilia Zhang, who was kidnapped froma bedroom in her Toronto home in October 2003.

Min Chen, then 21, was arrested at his Scarborough home in July 2004 and charged with killing Cecilia after her disappearance created headlines across the country for months.

The girl's remains were found near a Mississauga river on March 27, 2004, three days before she would have turned 10.

On Tuesday morning, an agreed statement of facts was read out in a Brampton courtroom, revealing for the first time that Chensmothered Cecilia to death.

It also revealed the motive for the crime: Chen desperately needed money.

He had planned to ask for ransom and then pay $25,000 to arrange a marriage of convenience so that he could stay in Canada and continue his studies.

At first he thought he could kidnap the girl, demand a ransom and return her to her parentsthe same day.

However, when he approached Cecilia in her house the night of Oct. 19, 2003, he feared that she was about to scream for help.

So he took a purple towel she had with her, covered her face and head with it, and pressed his hand hard against her face while he carried her out of the house to a waiting car.

By the time he put her in the car's trunk, she was no longer struggling. When he checked on her later, she wasn't breathing. He eventuallyleft her body in the Mississauga ravine where it was found.

Student faces mandatory life sentence

Chen was originally charged withfirst-degree murder. His trial on thatcharge was expected to begin Tuesday, but instead he was arraigned on the lesser charge.

The judge is required to impose a life sentence, which means Chen will not be eligible for parole for between 10 and 20 years, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Upon his eventual release, he would likely be deported back to China.

Cecilia's parents were not in court for the guilty plea. The family submitted victim impact statements in both written and video form, however.

Raymond Zhang cried as he said his only daughter would never have a chance to fulfil all her dreams.

Sherry Xu was also emotional as shetalked about the 161days and nights she spent hoping for good news before her daughter's body was found and the 720days and nights that have elapsed since theordeal began.

Parents mortgaged home to have ransom ready

Zhang and Xu had issued public pleas for their child's safe return in the weeks following her disappearance.

The girl's parents also mortgaged their house in order to have money ready in case of a ransom demand.

But the ransom call the police expected never came. Nor did the break in the case that Toronto's Chinese community longed for, as it raised tens of thousands of dollars to be offered as a reward.

Information about Cecilia was sent around the world and featured on America's Most Wanted in case she had somehow been spirited out of the country.

Killer knew former boarder at Zhang home

Chen came toCanada from Chinaon a student visa in 2001.

At the time of his arrest, police said he knew a woman who had boarded at the Zhang home between September 2002 and March 2003.

She was at first suspected of being involved in the case, but an investigation later cleared her. She was expected to be called asa witness when Chen went to trial.

Chen hadvisited the Zhang home at least fourtimes and had met Cecilia, police said.