Taylor Schmidt has been told his ''brutal, vicious, unprovoked and cowardly'' murder of a young university graduate will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Schmidt, 22, was sentenced to 20 years and six months for the senseless slaying of Liang Zhao on Northbourne Avenue.

It was a tragic turn of fate that brought Schmidt, his co-offender and Liang face-to-face on a footpath in the early hours of August 4, 2011.

Schmidt and his friend, who cannot be named, had decided to ''do an earner'', or a robbery, after a night of drinking and taking drugs.

They armed themselves with a baseball bat and a machete, and grabbed some gloves, before heading out onto the street.

Meanwhile, Liang was arriving in Canberra after a trip to Melbourne. He got off a bus at the Jolimont Centre, and was unable to find a taxi to take him home to Gungahlin.

Liang telephoned his mother and told her would walk along Northbourne Avenue in the hope of meeting her along the way.

Soon he came across Schmidt and the unnamed juvenile offender, who has already been sentenced to 17 years for his role in the killing.

Liang was knocked to the ground and dragged from the footpath. The pair took his mobile phone and $21 in cash.

Schmidt hit him with the baseball bat in the head once, causing Mr Zhao to cry out.

They told him to be quiet and not to tell police.

The juvenile then raised the machete, and Liang lifted his hand to defend himself.

He was struck with the weapon and screamed.

Liang was then beaten to death, incurring traumatic injuries to his head and skull, which left his brain exposed.

Schmidt told his co-offender to run. The pair went to a unit where they changed their clothes, washing Liang's blood from them, and hid their weapons.

Schmidt fled to Queanbeyan, using a false name to hire a hotel room and withdraw money. He was arrested on August 7, and pleaded guilty soon before his trial this year.

Schmidt was sentenced in the ACT Supreme Court on Monday to 20 years and six months, which will start from August 2011.

He was given a non-parole period of 14 years.

Justice Richard Refshauge found Schmidt only hit the victim once, but he noted it was the first blow and was to the head.

''Mr Schmidt, this was a brutal, vicious, unprovoked, cowardly attack, which you started,'' he said.

Justice Refshauge said Schmidt had shown remorse and insight into his crime, and had matured somewhat during his time in custody.

At an earlier sentencing hearing last month, Schmidt had apologised for the attack, telling the court he deserved to be in prison for a long time.

He read a note to Liang's family, saying the university graduate was a good man who was tragically taken from his family.

''When I think about it all, I feel like I can't breathe,'' he said. ''For so long, I didn't want to accept what I'd done.''

Schmidt said he blamed no one but himself, and that he should have cleaned up his life and stopped taking drugs.

Justice Refshauge extended the court's ''deep sympathy'' to Liang's mother, his partner and other family members.

His partner had fainted when she heard of Liang's murder, and began having to prepare for his funeral, instead of planning their life together, the court heard.

''No sentence that this court could impose would ever make good the grief they have suffered,'' Justice Refshauge said.

Prosecutors are appealing against the juvenile's 17-year sentence, saying it was manifestly inadequate.