Community reacts to start of trial

Local News

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Opening statements in Brendt Christensen’s murder trial were brutal to hear. More than a dozen people were listening to them from a streaming room in the Federal Courthouse Wednesday.

A mix of attorneys, members of the public and court employees were all there. As if the details themselves weren’t hard enough to hear, it was also a first for many to hear the defense say Christensen did it: murdered Yingying Zhang in June 2017.

“The process of murder is actually shocking to me because it’s very brutal, it was very violent and it’s a detail that hasn’t ever been released before,” said former University of Illinois student and Chinese journalist Zink Zhang. He and Yingying have the same last name, but are not related. He watched the trial from the streaming room in Urbana. 

Hearing the defense admit Christensen’s guilty was a first for many.

“It’s surprising to me because I thought the evidence, for the evidence from the prosecutor is also very definitive to charge Christensen of kidnapping and murder,” said Zhang. 

Prosecutors say Zhang was killed in Christensen’s apartment in the Stonegate Village Apartment Complex. People who go there often say it’s not a pleasant thought to consider the case’s connection to the complex. 

“It’s pretty startling that somebody in the community would have that kind of malice to be out here in the middle of what we think is a pretty nice community for the most part,” said Mike Barnes. Barnes’ friends are in the process of moving into an apartment at that very complex. “I believe in the death penalty for people who have murdered somebody else, especially in the way he’s admitted to doing.” said Barnes.

Experts say, at this point, the death penalty is the logical next step.

“I would expect that, having done that, that the idea would be to ask that his life is spared,” said retired defense attorney Diana Lenik. Lenik added that a lot could change in the future of the case. “Opening statements are not evidence. Opening statements sometimes turn out to be completely different from what evidence puts in.”

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