A federal jury sentenced the former University of Illinois physics doctoral pupil who abducted and murdered a traveling Chinese student to lifestyles in jail on Thursday.
Brendt Christensen, 29, was observed responsible last month throughout his trial on the U.S. District Court in Peoria after his protection crew admitted that he became accountable for 26-yr-antique Yingying Zhang’s demise.
Though Illinois does not have capital punishment in kingdom cases, Christensen might have been sentenced to death because he became convicted in federal court docket. As the jury, which deliberated for over 8 hours, did now not attain a unanimous vote at the demise penalty, Christensen was automatically sentenced to life in prison with out the possibility of parole on Thursday.
He reportedly flashed a grin to his protection legal professionals after the verdict changed into the study.
Christensen kidnapped Zhang in June 2017 from a bus stop in Urbana, approximately 140 miles southwest of Chicago, using posing as an undercover officer, prosecutors stated. Once returned at his rental, the government say he raped, choked, and stabbed Zhang, then beat her with a baseball bat and decapitated her.
Zhang’s frame was by no means discovered.
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Christensen become implicated inside the death while his then-girlfriend, Terra Bullis, wore an FBI twine to the vigil for Zhang’s disappearance; Bullis recorded Christensen telling her about how he raped and killed Zhang, whom he called his 13th sufferer. (An FBI agent throughout the trial stated authorities have now not yet been capable of corroborating that Christensen killed some other 12 victims however additionally haven’t dominated it out.)
When Christensen saw the group at the vigil, Bullis testified that he told her: “They’re all right here for me.”
On the recording, Christensen is known as Zhang “valiant” in her fight to live to tell the tale and said she become “more potent than any sufferer I’ve ever had.”
“I gained’t let you know wherein she is. I won’t inform all of us. They will in no way discover her,” he stated.
To convince the jury to let him stay, Christensen’s protection team had shown videos of him as a baby.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney James Nelson stated on Wednesday at some point of the government’s last arguments that “justice ought to be carried out.”
“Sentence Brendt Christensen to loss of life,” he said. “All murderers start out as innocent youngsters. Sometimes kids develop as much as to be cruel adults. The defendant isn’t in right here due to what he did when he was 12.”
“The defendant killed Yingying Zhang for sport,” Nelson introduced, explaining that Zhang’s circle of relatives had so much hope for her brilliant destiny.
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“That’s why Yingying fought so tough,” he said. “She had a lot to live for.”
During the trial, prosecutors said that Christensen determined even before Zhang’s arrival inside the United States that he would kill “a petite female who could easily be disposed of” and that she became his “ideal sufferer.” Authorities instructed the jurors that Christensen approached a unique young woman in advance that same day, posing as an officer, but that female refused to get within the automobile.
Last week, Zhang’s family—and Christensen himself—cried as her father defined the final time he noticed her alive at a train station on her manner to the U.S.
“She is a part of me as if my life without her would now not be complete,” Ronggao Zhang testified at Christensen’s sentencing. “To let you know the fact, I do now not understand a way to stay the rest of my life.”
“This terrific daughter of mine, she is my the whole thing,” Zhang’s mother, Lifeng Ye, said in her testimony. “Our entire circle of relatives does not recognise a way to carry on.”
Zhang’s fiancé, Xiaolin Hou, advised the jurors that her dying “completely changed the track of my existence” and “took away the maximum critical person in my 30 years of lifestyles.”
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After Christensen became convicted, Zhang’s father stated in the assertion that her family “will now not give up” on their desire to “find Yingying and produce her home.”
Christensen’s mom, Ellen Williams, testified all through his sentencing that it might be “devastating” if her son was achieved, and defense attorneys pointed to her testimony, as well as Christensen’s proper behavior in prison, in their case for an existence sentence.
In her last arguments, federal defender Elisabeth Pollock requested for mercy for Christensen, emphasizing that he sought to assist for his intellectual fitness troubles earlier than ultimately killing Zhang.
“He’s leaving jail in a casket,” Pollock said. “The simplest query is whilst.”
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