Peoria, Unwell. — A federal prosecutor on Wednesday informed jurors in grisly element that authorities consider a former College of Illinois doctoral scholar kidnapped a visiting scholar from China, and beat her to demise with a baseball bat. Protection attorneys intent on sparing their consumer a attainable demise penalty then provided a shocking response: He did it.
Opening statements started within the death-penalty trial of, a case which is being intently watched in China and by Chinese language college students throughout the U.S. Christensen is accused of posing as an undercover officer to lure 26-year-old Yingying Zhang into his automobile on June 9, 2017, as she headed to signal a lease off campus.
Christensen, who’s over 6-foot, took Zhang to his residence the place he raped, choked and stabbed her in his bed room, because the 5-foot-Four Zhang tried to battle him off, prosecutor Eugene Miller stated in his opening assertion to jurors Wednesday. Christensen then dragged Zhang into his rest room, and pummeled her within the head with the bat earlier than decapitating her, Miller stated.
With Zhang’s father, a part-time trailer-truck driver from China, sitting just some toes away on a courtroom bench, Miller additionally revealed for the primary time that Christensen was captured on an FBI wiretap bragging that Zhang had been his 13th sufferer. However the prosecutor did not supply further particulars, nor did he say if authorities believed him. Miller appeared to broach the problem with a view to display Christensen’s quest to be often known as a serial killer.
It was not instantly clear if authorities had been investigating Christensen’s alleged declare. Prosecutors have stated they will not touch upon the trial whereas it is ongoing.
Christensen grew to become obsessive about serial killers within the months earlier than for he kidnapped Zhang, Miller stated, including that Christensen was engrossed by the novel “American Psycho” and was intent on slaying somebody with a view to fulfill a objective of infamy that he’d set for himself. Zhang, who had solely been in Illinois for 2 months in what was her first expertise residing exterior China, aspired to grow to be a professor in her house nation to assist her working-class mother and father.
“Whereas Yingying was on campus pursuing her desires, he was on campus pursuing one thing darkish – one thing evil,” Miller stated, standing at a podium in entrance of jurors.
A federal choose moved the trial to Peoria in central Illinois after Christensen’s attorneys stated pretrial publicity would have made it inconceivable for the 29-year-old former physics scholar to get a good trial within the Champaign space, the place the 45,000-student college is positioned. The college has greater than 5,000 Chinese language college students, among the many largest such enrollments within the nation.
Zhang was unfortunate to be within the incorrect place on the incorrect time, Miller informed jurors, saying Christensen had decided on June 9 to kill somebody that day and had been cruising in his automobile searching for a sufferer. Earlier, he approached a distinct younger girl, additionally saying he was an undercover police officer. When he requested her to get into his automobile to reply some questions, she refused.
Prosecutors allege Christensen took benefit of Zhang’s small stature and lack of English fluency after seeing her by a bus cease, pulling up and efficiently speaking her into his automobile. She had simply missed a bus – even working after it – whereas she was on her option to signal the lease off campus in Champaign’s sister metropolis Urbana, 140 miles (225 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.
Later, the tall and muscular Christensen certain Zhang and received her into his residence, the place, Miller stated, he raped Zhang in his bed room and commenced stabbing her, blood splattering across the room. Christensen started attempting to choke Zhang, Miller informed jurors, citing an announcement Christensen allegedly made to others.
“He choked her for 10 minutes,” Miller stated. “However she fought for her life.”
After pulling her into the toilet, Christensen picked up the bat and struck Zhang within the head as laborious as he might, “splitting her head open,” Miller stated. Christensen lower off her head and disposed of the physique, which has by no means been discovered.
Christensen rolled a pen by way of his fingers at a protection desk because the prosecutor spoke. Zhang’s dad, sitting about 15 toes (4.57 meters) away from Christensen, principally seemed straight forward, unmoving, because the prosecutor provided particulars of his daughter’s killing. Often, he appeared to show and look instantly at Christensen.
The federal death-penalty case is the primary in Illinois because the state struck capital punishment from its books on grounds death-penalty processes had been too error-prone. Some Illinois anti-death penalty activists criticized what they stated was the federal authorities’s imposition of a death-penalty case on a non-death penalty state.
When he first stepped as much as the rostrum Christensen’s lawyer, George Tesseff, informed jurors he would start his remarks with what he realized was an uncommon admission for an legal professional about his consumer: “Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang,” he stated.
With out explaining intimately, Tesseff stated Christensen was accountable as a result of he “is on trial for his life,” alluding to the opportunity of a demise sentence.
Whereas the lawyer’s admission was extraordinary it did not essentially contradict what the protection has stated beforehand. Whereas Christensen pleaded not responsible, the protection by no means argued legislation enforcement had the incorrect man. The admission in court docket Wednesday was a sign that their sole goal was to not win a not-guilty verdict, however to steer jurors to not vote to condemn Christensen to demise.
Tesseff laid the groundwork in his opening assertion, saying protection attorneys take situation with prosecutors’ clarification of “how and why” Christensen did what he did. Tesseff portrayed Christensen’s life as being in turmoil main as much as Zhang’s disappearance, saying marital and consuming issues solely made issues worse. Christensen was married on the time, however he had a girlfriend and his spouse had a boyfriend in what the prosecutor earlier informed jurors was their settlement to have “an open marriage” the place they dated others. In his first few semesters as a doctoral scholar, Christensen was making straight As however by late 2016 was getting Fs in all his courses.
Christensen appeared to bow and shake his head barely when his lawyer spoke of Christensen’s life spinning uncontrolled in 2016.
Tesseff informed jurors they’d see video of Christensen looking for assist from U of I mental-health counselors for homicidal and suicidal ideas.
He additionally talked about an announcement Christensen made about killing others, saying his consumer was clearly in a drunken stupor on the time and that there isn’t any proof he ever killed anybody else aside from Zhang.
Christensen was arrested on June 30, 2017, his birthday, after his girlfriend wore a wire for the FBI in a bid to seize incriminating statements by Christensen. The girlfriend is predicted to be the federal government’s star witness.
As a result of Zhang’s physique was by no means discovered, the primary authorities witnesses had been known as to assist set up that she is, in truth, useless. Zhang’s boyfriend, Xiaolin Hou, stated he and Zhang deliberate to wed in October 2017. They talked virtually each day despite the fact that he was in China, however the calls stopped after she went lacking.
Throughout his opening, Miller stated Christensen’s personal phrases proved Zhang is useless. In a secret recording by the girlfriend, caught as Christensen attended a June 29 campus vigil for Zhang, he informed his girlfriend the folks had been “there for me.” Miller stated.
Christensen added: “She’s by no means going to be discovered. … She’s gone endlessly.”
Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toolethat suspects generally do present up at occasions for victims.
“It might’ve made him really feel crucial,” O’Toole stated. “He is aware of that he’s the person who’s liable for all of this worry… and another excuse that he might go to a vigil is to search out out what is going on on within the investigation. For those who go to the vigil and you allow the vigil, in his thoughts he isn’t arrested, so possibly he isn’t developed as a suspect.”