Ex-wife testifies during penalty phase

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PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — In court Friday, the ex-wife of Brendt Christensen took the stand during the penalty phase of his trial. Last month, he was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering UI scholar Yingying Zhang. The jury is now considering life in prison or the death penalty for Christensen.

Michelle Zortman detailed how she knew the defendant saying the grew up attending school in the Stevens Point School District, but didn’t meet until they worked together at K-Mart. When Christensen later came in as a customer, the couple started talking.

Zortman also described how the two broke up for a short time then got back together. Christensen is keeping his eyes fixed on his ex-wife much of the time she’s on the stand.

The defense attorney asked, “Did you love him?”

“Yes.”

“Did he love you?”

“Yes.”

“If you had a problem with your family, would he be there for you?”

“Yes.”

When court resumes, the defense continues questioning Christensen’s ex-wife, Michelle Zortman.

The attorney asks, “How long did you live together before you got married?”

“Two years.” Zortman says they planned their wedding in two months; she wanted the ceremony to be simple. They each only invited two friends and immediate family. Christensen was 22 and Zortman was 23. Zortman says she didn’t care about comments people made about how young they were at the time.

The defense continues questioning, (During the time you were married) Did you have any close girlfriends that you confided in and went out with?”

“No.”

“Did Brendt?”

“No.”

“I played a clip of you saying derogatory things about Terra Bullis (Christensen’s girlfriend at the time). Before that video, what had you been doing?”

“Crying.” [On the video, Zortman made this statement about Bullis: “I hope she f***ing passes out up there and has to be carried out of the courtroom on a stretcher unconscious.”]

“Were you emotionally out of sorts when you said those things (about Bullis)?”

“Yes.”

“How do you feel about the statements you made?”

“I regret them.”

“You understand what [he] did was not Terra Bullis’ fault, right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you understand what [he] did was no one fault but Brendt’s?”

“Yes.”

The prosecution questions Zortman.

“You believe [he] was selfish?”

“Yes.”

“Do you recall [him] telling you to wear a certain outfit when you testified?”

“I don’t know.”

The prosecution asks Zortman several other questions about Christensen telling Zortman what to wear. When the judge asks why, the prosecution says it’s to establish Christensen was controlling.

The defense redirects questioning.

“When you packed for this trip, did you pick out your own clothes, like a big girl?”

“Yes.”

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