Investigation | Openings set at Illinois trial in slaying of Chinese scholar

Clay Curtis
June 15, 2019

Brendt Christensen, 29, could face the death penalty for the abduction and presumed slaying in June 2017 of Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old student at the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign, about 200km south of Chicago. But Judge Shadid said delaying the trial would not serve the interests of justice.

Prosecutors allege that Christensen, a 29-year-old former physics student, became obsessed with serial killers months prior to the attack and lured Zhang into his vehicle on June 9, 2017.

The defense attorneys for a former University of IL doctoral student admitted to the jury Wednesday that their client brutally beat and killed a foreign exchange student from China, but stressed that he "is on trial for his life", in a case that could warrant the death penalty.

Opening statements are set for a federal death-penalty trial of a former University of IL graduate student charged with kidnapping and killing a visiting Chinese scholar.

"Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang", Taseff went on.

The families of Zhang Yingying, who had come from China, arrived at the federal courthouse nearly half an hour prior to the trial. Christensen is accused of luring 26-gear-old Yingying Zhang (ying ying zahng) into his vehicle in June, 2017 as she headed to sign a lease off campus.

"He choked her for 10 minutes", Miller said.

Zhang came from southeastern China to study photosynthesis and crop production at the university two months before she was reported missing on June 9, 2017.

Christensen then raped and stabbed her to death, and decapitated her body to dispose of it in an unknown location, assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller told the jury.

Investigators alleged Christensen admitted to giving Zhang a ride, but said he dropped her off in a residential area a few blocks from where he picked her up.

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Christensen is recorded bragging about what he did to Zhang and how she was his thirteenth victim.

There, they say Christensen killed the 26-year-old Zhang.

Blood stains on the baseball bat investigators found in Christensen's apartment, along with multiple other stains found on his mattress and carpet, matched Yingying's DNA, according to prosecutors.

The federal death-penalty case is the first in IL since the state struck capital punishment from its books on grounds death-penalty processes were too error-prone.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts. He held it as a strategy by the defense to avoid death penalty. Tesseff portrayed Christensen's life as being in turmoil leading up to Zhang's disappearance, saying he was drinking heavily at the time. Christensen was married at the time, but he had a girlfriend and his wife had a boyfriend in what the prosecutor earlier told jurors was their agreement to have "an open marriage" where they dated others.

He also mentioned a statement Christensen made about killing others, saying his client was clearly in a drunken stupor at the time and that there is no evidence he ever killed anyone else other than Zhang.

Zhang's father and younger brother sat in the courtroom wearing headsets to follow the translation of speeches.

Christensen was arrested on June 30, 2017, his birthday, after his girlfriend wore a wire for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a bid to capture incriminating statements by Christensen. More witnesses are expected to testify.

Because Zhang's body was never found, the first government witnesses were called to help establish that she is, in fact, dead.

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