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3 days ago

News Source: abc7chicago.com
Defense Admits Brendt Christensen Killed Chinese Scholar At University Of Illinois
university defense trial

Brendt Christensen Killed Yingying Zhang At University Of Illinois, Defense Says In Opening Statements

Christensen has not changed his plea or reached any deal with his prosecutors. Instead his attorneys, possibly because of the strength of the prosecutor's case, appear to be laying the groundwork for the sentencing phase. Christensen faces the death penalty if convicted.

"Maybe we can have some closure, but family only has one wish: to find Yingying," said Dr. Kim Tee, Zhang family friend.

Wednesday morning, the family of Zhang, who've come from China, arrived at the federal courthouse in Peoria a few minutes after her accused killer arrived to court in a white county sheriff's van.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller started his opening statement by saying bluntly, "He killed her, he murdered her, he covered up his crime."

Christensen sat expressionless as prosecutors painted him as a man fascinated with abduction and serial killers, including Ted Bundy and the character in the book "American Psycho."

Miller detailed the government's evidence: Surveillance video showing Christensen picking up Zhang at an Urbana bus stop, a positive DNA match of Zhang's blood in Christensen's Champaign apartment and on a baseball bat he owned, and finally, Christensen's own words in recordings obtained by his then-girlfriend, who agreed to wear a wire for the FBI.

"The FBI doesn't know where she is," he allegedly said. "I'm apparently very good at this."

"I would say the evidence list really shows some detective work, what looks to me pretty good detective work, they pieced together this case, all parts of it," said ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer.

The jury could barely catch its breath before the defense dropped its own bombshell.

"Brendt Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Jhang. Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang," Defense Attorney George Taseff told the jury.

Christensen teared up as his defense painted a portrait not of a monster, but of a man struggling with substance abuse and mental illness, whose wife was leaving him and who was failing in school.

"In that mental state he launches into a new relationship based on roleplay," Taseff said.

The defense suggested Christensen's depictions of torture and murder were the ramblings of a drunk man.

"I would be surprised if they (defense) called any witnesses. It doesn't often happen in a criminal defense case. It doesn't often happen in a murder case, which is really what this is. I suspect he'll call nobody and that the evidence that we are seeing from him is evidence, if it comes to it, at the death penalty phase," Soffer said.

It's clear the defense plans to attack the credibility of Christensen's ex-girlfriend, who obtained the wire recordings, essentially accusing her drawing fantasies out of Christensen and saying details the prosecution laid out were the confessions of a man who was drunk and role-playing.

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