Jury decides life or death

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Update: PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — The jury is now deliberating the fate of killer, Brendt Christensen. Three weeks ago, the same jury convicted him for the kidnapping and murder of UI scholar Yingying Zhang.

Now, the panel will decide if Christensen will be put to death or will live the rest of his life behind bars. During the final day of the sentencing phase the prosecution and defense continued to spar.

UASA James Nelson held up the green duffel bag in evidence and told jurors they could determine whether or not a human body could fit into one.

Meanwhile, assistant federal defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock told the jury, “He’s not just a cold-blooded killer. In fact, I don’t think he is one at all.”

She personally apologized to the victim’s family and listed the mitigating factors she hopes the jury will take into consideration. They included Christensen’s lack of a criminal record, his mother’s history of depression and alcoholism, the defendant’s ability to love and care, the breakdown of his marriage and how well he behaved in jail.

She stated, “No amount of Drano could erase what they say happened [in the bathroom].” She argues, what he did for three months in 2017 isn’t a full-enough picture of who he is to warrant a sentence of death.

The government’s rebuttal includes a repetition of aggravating factors in the case including the vulnerability of the victim, the killer’s lack of remorse and the victim’s family’s impact statements.

The prosecution says, “I submit that you will have no difficulty finding a verdict in this case. Justice will be right there for you to find. We know the defendant had a plan and his plans involved his idols,” alluding to Ted Bundy and American Psycho.

Additionally, the prosecution said, “The defendant found that the downside of getting away with murder is no one knows about it. You can’t be famous if no one knows what you did.”

Nelson continues with Christensen’s statements from the recording by Terra Bullis.

“It was unbelievable, like supernatural almost, how she wouldn’t die.”

He recounts evidence of Christensen making the following statement while attending the vigil for Zhang with Bullis,

“I wanted to see how many people were here because they’re all here for me.”

Nelson discusses Zhang’s personality, showing pictures of her smiling and describing her “sunny disposition.” He says, “She didn’t want that man (Christensen) to be the last thing she saw on this earth.”

He also references statements by Zhang’s father, “To tell you the truth, I do not know how to live the rest of my life.

Nelson says, “Lack of remorse has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

He finishes by defending the UI Counseling Center. “They had to rely on what he (Christensen) said and they didn’t know that what they were talking to was very good liar.”

For the death sentence to be imposed, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict. If just one juror holds out, the defendant will automatically get life in prison. Because of that, federal prosecutors argue the jury should work towards a goal of reaching an agreement while the defense says they should all think as individuals.


PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Wednesday, jurors in Brendt Christensen’s trial will be given the responsibility of determining his fate: death or life in prison.

The government has three statutory aggravating factors: Yingying Zhang’s death happened during the commission of another crime; that it was heinous, cruel or depraved and it was planned or premeditated. There are also five non-statutory aggravating factors.

The defense presented almost 50 mitigating factors including Christensen’s mental health, substance abuse issues and the fact he sought counseling.

In his closing argument, AUSA James Nelson said, “The defendant killed Yingying Zhang for sport.”

He says it happened 767 days ago. By detailing all the aggravating factors, he argues death is the only justice; “Justice must be done. Sentence Brendt Christensen to death.”

He continues the defense’s mitigating factors do not outweigh the aggravating factors.

“All murderers start out as innocent children. Sometimes, children grow up to be cruel adults. The defendant is not in here because of what he did when he was 12.”

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