Jury selected for Christensen trial

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WCIA) — Jury members for Brendt Christensen’s trial have officially been seated.

Christensen is charged with kidnapping and killing UI scholar Yingying Zhang in June 2017. Opening statements for his trial are scheduled to start at 9 am, Wednesday.

12 jurors and six alternate jurors were selected after more than a week-long process of interviews. Tuesday morning, the majority of a pool of 70 potential jurors were excused.

Seven jurors are men and five are women. They all appear to be middle-aged (between 40 – 70), and all or almost all, appear to be white. Of the six alternate jurors, four are men and two are women. They’re all middle-aged and all white.

The alternate jurors are required to be present in the courtroom and listen to evidence just as the main jurors are, but they won’t deliberate. They’ll be on hand to step in in the event one of the main jurors can no longer serve.

Judge Jim Shadid instructed all 18 members to refrain from talking about the case with anyone and from viewing or reading any news coverage about it. The jurors will be sworn in Wednesday morning.

Shadid told the jury he expects about a week to two weeks of evidence and testimony with a verdict being reached between June 21 – 24.

If a guilty verdict is reached, he believes the sentencing phase of the trial would begin July 8. That part would be expected to last two to three weeks.

There were other items of business the court took care of Tuesday morning. Christensen’s legal team announced they’ll be submitting a new piece of evidence for discovery in connection with a new lawsuit. That’s after learning Zhang’s estate has filed a lawsuit for wrongful death and negligence against Christensen and two UI social workers.

The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Daniel Deneen. Deneen is a lawyer and the administrator of Ms. Zhang’s estate.

Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller told the judge they prepared a schedule of the first three days of witnesses who will be called during the trial. The defense lawyers were given the list and Shadid said he would give the schedule to the jury as well.

Over the weekend, Christensen’s defense team filed a motion to disclose his ex-girlfriend’s mental health treatment. The couple was involved in a dominant-submissive relationship. Prosecutors have her on the witness list. 

Christensen’s lawyers say she was unstable, and the government has evidence of receipts for her mental health treatment. His defense wanted those records released. 

Tuesday morning, Miller told Shadid he provided the defense with those receipts. However, it was noted the receipts are not specific records of medication or treatment.

If found guilty, Christensen will be sentenced to either death or life in prison.

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