Christensen’s ex-wife takes the stand

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PEORIA, Ill. (WCIA) — Friday’s court starts with Brendt Christensen’s defense team making a third motion for a mistrial.

Christensen is on trial for kidnapping resulting in death for the 2017 murder of UI scholar Yingying Zhang.

The judge denies the motion. He also denies a motion for the defendant’s acquittal and a motion trial evidence was insufficient but grants the motion for limiting jury instruction as to Christensen’s state of mind.

After the defense filed its motions and the judge ruled, prosecutors rested their case.

The defense recalled FBI Special Agent Anthony Manganaro to the stand. He’s asked about Charles Hill’s testimony on Tuesday.

Hill was incarcerated with Christensen at the Macon County Jail between July – August 2017.

Assistant public defender George Taseff asks Manganaro to detail how he went to the jail to eat lunch with Hill to discuss the tip Hill passed to a corrections officer. The tip involved Christensen telling Hill how he picked up a girl.

Taseff has Manganaro say there was no mention of a walkie-talkie or zipties or restraints in his report of what Hill said and such things would have been notable.

Eugene Miller cross-examines Manganaro who states his report memorialized the fact Hill said Christensen told him he was posing as a police officer.

Taseff recrosses saying Hill prepared to testify during a second interview Manganaro wasn’t part of.

The defense calls Alan Profancik who is a private legal investigator who primarily works with the federal public defender’s office. His work includes finding and interviewing witnesses and reviewing discovery.

Profancik testifies he was with Taseff when they interviewed Hill in prison. He says when Hill was asked whether Christensen had a police badge, Hill responded it was the first time he’d heard about that.

Miller crosses Profancik and makes the point since he isn’t a law enforcement officer, people he interviews have no legal obligation to tell him the truth.

“Are you familiar with the phrase ‘Snitches get stitches?'” Profancik says he is.

Miller says Hill was originally in protective custody in Macon County because he was going to testify against his co-defendant.

Miller has Profancik detail how he asked Hill if he snitched on Christensen, the purpose of the interview was to find out what Hill told the FBI.

Taseff redirects saying Hill’s attorney made him aware of the purpose of their visit.

The defense calls Christensen’s now ex-wife, Michelle Zortman. She testifies how she met the defendant working as cashiers at K-Mart, in Wisconsin when they were 19 or 20-years old.

They went to high school together, but never really talked. When they started dating, they moved to Madison, Wisconsin.

Zortman says she was planning on the relationship being successful. They eventually moved in together, but didn’t have much of a social life,, instead just staying in to play video games, and watch TV and movies.

Defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock asks if she’s a fan of being in the witness stand, Zortman replies no. When asked if she wishes she were not there, she replies very much.

Zortman details concerns with his drinking and describes how the marriage began to fall apart. She says she still talked to him after his arrest and still cares about him.

Zortman testifies the couple was married in March 2013; a simple wedding in a hotel with their parents and two friends each. They moved to Champaign in 2013 so Christensen could attend graduate school.

Zortman got a degree from Parkland College in accounting and started working for Busey Bank. She again describes the couple as private without much of a social life.

Zortman states Christensen didn’t like cleaning and she did most of the cooking. She says Christensen made a steak once when they lived in Stevens Point. Christensen smirks when she says this. Most of the time, he’s been looking straight at her but she seems to be avoiding eye contact with him.

Zortman testifies she tasked Christensen with sharpening knives because he had more free time and she was no good at it. But, he never actually got around to doing it.

Zortman says the defendant started drinking a lot when they lived in Wisconsin, but she didn’t press the issue because he would stop whenever school started up.

She eventually became angry about it and says he kept coming up with excuses when she would ask him to stop.

In December 2016, she says he got very drunk and said something disturbing to her. She says the marriage was never the same after that.

She says she met a coworker who propositioned her to open up her marriage. She took the idea to Christensen. She says he thought about it and eventually agreed.

She testifies he isn’t very emotionally expressive. They established an open marriage rule they would always spend more time with each other than other people.

Eventually she decided their marriage hit a “dead end,” due to his drinking and substance abuse. He got upset but was able to convince her to stay.

After Christensen started dating Bullis, Zortman testifies she was aware of their sexual experimentation.

She also started experimenting with her own boyfriend, Ryan. When she decided to go out of town with Ryan the weekend of June 9, she didn’t really consider Christensen’s feelings on the matter.

She says the defendant decided he was upset about it a couple days before the trip. When she returned, she says the apartment looked and smelled normal.

Zortman testifies she saw the defendant leave with the green duffel bag Monday saying he was going to Bullis’ house. She didn’t think anything of it.

She says, when the FBI came to search the apartment on June 14, she didn’t feel like she had a choice.

She states in order for them to stay together as a couple, she would require him to go to rehab. She says he told her he went once.

Zortman testifies after Christensen’s arrest, he called her from jail asking her to delete certain Reddit posts because he wanted his privacy.

Assistant defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock asks:

You now know that Brendt did, in fact, cause the death of Miss Zhang?”
“Yes.”
“Do you still talk to him?”
“Yes.”
“Even though you divorced him?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”

Zortman says he was a big part of her life and she still cares for him.

During cross-examination, she says Christensen kept the baseball bat under the bed. She testifies she didn’t use his computer, had no doubt FBI agents at their door were looking for the missing girl and knows he’s responsible for Zhang’s death. What she didn’t know about was Zhang being in their vehicle.

Zortman agrees her husband could have easily carried a duffel bag weighing 110 pounds. She also testified he told her the blood stain on the mattress was from a nosebleed.

Zortman says, toward the end, she wasn’t afraid of him but was “leery.” She says she wouldn’t sleep in the same room and had something on the door to make noise to notify her if he came in.

The defense again questions Zortman and suggests Christensen’s tolerance for drinking went down. She also gets Zortman to agree she was the one who brought up the ideas of opening the relationship and divorce.

Court continues and we’ll have the latest on the WCIA-3 News at 5 and 6 with Aaron Eades live from Peoria.

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