PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Defense attorneys for Brendt Christensen once again started the day in court requesting a mistrial. Their motion was based on the fact a juror ran out of court during testimony Tuesday. The motion was denied.
The government rested its case in the sentencing phase for Christensen found guilty of kidnapping leading to the death of UI scholar Yingying Zhang in 2017.
The defense calls Christensen’s father, Michael, to the stand. He states he lives a “humble” life, doesn’t make much money and splits his time between a cabin he built in UP Michigan and Minnesota.
He testifies Brendt’s mother, Ellen, was frequently drunk around their three children and adds Brendt tried to kill himself at the age of 15 by running into traffic, but says he didn’t know why he did it. He stated Brendt suffered night terrors well into his 20s.
Michael Christensen says his wife’s drinking ruined their marriage and the couple divorced. He says he supported his son marrying Michelle.
When asked if he’s aware his son is responsibly for Zhang’s death, he answers yes and when asked, “Do you still love him?” He replies, “Oh god, yeah.” He says the jury did what it had to do and it wasn’t a surprise to him his son was found guilty.
When asked if he had anything to say to the victim’s family who had walked out of the courtroom during his testimony, he replied, “I’m sorry my son was the cause of their pain.” He begins crying into his hands and says his son has too much to offer to die.
Prosecutors cross-examine Michael Christensen who admits he hasn’t seen his son in person since 2013. Defense attorney redirects afterwards and has Brendt’s dad confirm it’s because he lived 8-hours away and it would have taken him a month’s salary to afford to visit. He leaves the stand in tears.
Michael’s brother and Brendt’s uncle, Mark Christensen, also testifies. He discusses the family’s history of alcoholism. He admits he hasn’t seen the defendant since Brendt was 12-years old. When asked about Zhang’s murder, he says, “It’s horrible. It’s a travesty. I feel terrible for their family.”