Yongfei Ci said he was "truly sorry" for what he had put the parents of Mengchen Huang through by killing their only child.
"I can't possibly fathom what they must have gone through," he said, never directly expressing remorse for killing his former girlfriend.
"She was a very intelligent girl with a big heart. Despite what I did to her, I never thought evil or spoke evil of her. In all my conversations with police and others, I don't think I ever uttered a bad word about her," Ci said.
In a statement to the judge that lasted several minutes, the Chinese native said in fluent English that he knew he had to be punished but asked the judge to consider what he had done his whole life.
He spoke of his lifelong focus on academics, his willingness to give blood (he was rejected because there is malaria in China), his habit of recycling, and charitable donations he made through filing state and federal tax returns since 2006.
"Some people may think they are trivial ... but small gestures reveal a lot about a person's character," he said.
In addition to Ci's comments, Ladd considered the four-page written statement of Miss Huang's parents, who are also from China.
Wei Huang and Zhiqin Jia wrote of the devastating loss of their only child at the hands of an "entitled narcissist" ... "who took advantage of Mengchen's kind heart."
They were not present at the sentencing but about 20 people who knew Miss Huang and Ci were.
Her parents wrote of the passion their daughter had for teaching and researching Chinese art and how loved she was by fellow students and faculty in the School of Art and Design.
"Mengchen could have made accomplishments in the academic realm, she could have been a companion for us till our old age, she could have offered her help to more, she could have made significant contributions to the community. ... She could have continued to live a life of so much potential and purpose! But the murderer, with blood on his hands, mercilessly took all these possibilities away from her. And all our wishes are now for naught."
"The murder of our dearest daughter has entrapped us in endless misery and despair. We couldn't express more anger towards the murderer," they wrote.
Ladd said state law forbids her from considering the comments sent to her by Xinhao Wang, the man Miss Huang she was dating at the time of her death, because he was not a relative.