PEORIA, In poor health. (Reuters) – An Illinois man described by prosecutors as obsessive about serial killers was sentenced to life in jail on Thursday for the kidnapping and decapitation of a Chinese language graduate scholar two years in the past.
Zhidong Wang (C), legal professional and spokesman for the Zhang household speaks to reporters with Ronggao Zhang, father of Yingying Zhang, in Peoria, Illinois, U.S. July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito
A U.S. District Court docket jury in Peoria, Illinois discovered Brendt Christensen, 29, responsible final month of all expenses within the homicide of Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old scholar on the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
On Thursday, the identical jury of 5 girls and 7 males instructed the decide they have been unable to unanimously determine between life in jail or the demise penalty. Christensen was then sentenced to life imprisonment by default.
Christensen, who regarded down together with his eyes closed, smiled and sighed when U.S. District Decide James Shadid learn the choice. He hugged and thanked his legal professionals. His mom was hugged by a member of his authorized crew within the courtroom.
Shadid admonished Christensen for not addressing Zhang’s household when he gave him the chance throughout a short listening to later when he formally sentenced him.
“The mercy prolonged to you by this jury is a testomony to their humanity, not your character,” Shadid mentioned.
Whereas Illinois has outlawed capital punishment, it’s an possibility in federal circumstances tried below U.S. kidnapping legal guidelines.
Within the sentencing section of the trial on Wednesday, prosecutors described how Christensen, a one-time masters scholar on the college, took Zhang to his condominium, the place she fought for her life as he bludgeoned her with a baseball bat, raped her and stabbed her within the neck earlier than reducing off her head.
“He’ll die in jail as he ought to for these unthinkable acts,” John Milhiser, the U.S. legal professional for the central district of Illinois, instructed a information convention.
Christensen’s legal professionals acknowledged within the trial and shutting arguments that their shopper killed Zhang, however requested the jury to contemplate that he had struggled with substance abuse and psychological sickness.
“It’s the lesser of two evils,” Christensen’s father Michael mentioned of the sentence.
Zhang’s mother and father and fiance sat by way of the five-week trial in Peoria, about 165 miles (266 km) southwest of Chicago. In an announcement her household mentioned it disagreed with the sentence.
“We settle for that he’ll spend the remainder of his life in jail, which nonetheless displays our loss in a significant manner,” the household mentioned.
Zhang was reported lacking on June 9, 2017, two months after arriving from southeastern China to check photosynthesis and crop manufacturing. Her stays have by no means been discovered however prosecutors mentioned her DNA matched blood present in three spots in Christensen’s bed room.
“When you have any humanity left in your soul, please assist us finish our torment,” the Zhang household mentioned, pleading for Christensen to reveal the place he left her physique.
The case has been intently watched in China, the place state-run media have lined the court docket proceedings, and the sentencing set social media alight on Friday.
Three of the highest 10 matters trending on Twitter-like Weibo associated to the case, with many feedback disparaging the U.S. authorized system and expressing outrage over the jury’s lack of ability to conform to a demise sentence.
“So, that is the explanation why there are such a lot of serial killers in America, as a result of crime is inspired by the regulation at its roots,” ran one remark.
“That is saddest for her mother and father…no demise sentence,” learn one other. “The U.S. authorized system is admittedly crap.”
Investigators have been led to Christensen by way of surveillance video footage in Urbana, 130 miles (210 km) south of Chicago, that confirmed Zhang getting right into a black automotive later traced to him.
Prosecutors on the trial characterised Christensen as having a fascination with serial killers, together with Ted Bundy, executed in 1989 after having murdered dozens of ladies throughout the 1970s.
Particulars of the crime, together with Zhang’s decapitation, have been revealed by Christensen in conversations with a girlfriend secretly recorded for FBI brokers investigating the case earlier than his arrest, in line with trial testimony.
Reporting by Bob Chiarito; Extra reporting by Wealthy McKay, Brendan Pierson, John Ruwitch and Shanghai Newsroom; Modifying by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez