Prosecutors seek death penalty for accused killer

Local News

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Eight months after a UI scholar disappeared, prosecutors will seek the death penalty in her accused killer’s case. 

Brendt Christensen is accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing Yingying Zhang. Friday, prosecutors announced they will try to have him executed.

Illinois doesn’t have the death penalty, but it doesn’t matter in this case because that’s a state law. This is a federal case. Federal and state have completely different court systems and different rules. In this case, prosecutors can pursue the death penalty. 

They say Christensen lied to investigators, destroyed and concealed Zhang’s body and cleaned the crime scene. 

The death penalty notice claims to have evidence of him saying he wanted to be known as a killer and having expertise in avoiding detection. They also say there was substantial planning and premeditation leading up to this. 

She disappeared in June last year. Her body hasn’t been found, but the F.B.I. believes she’s dead. 

On top of that, they say Christensen is likely to do this again in the future. Judging by the lack of remorse he showed when the F.B.I. had him under surveillance, they say he could put other lives in danger. 

If Christensen is convicted, the jury will decide if the death penalty will apply.

Zhang’s family released a statement Friday after receiving the news:

[They] expressed their appreciation and respect for the process including consideration of the family’s wishes in arriving at a decision to seek the death penalty in this case. The tragedy of this brutal crime that has harmed their daughter demands the greatest, ultimate punishment. The family’s foremost wish has always been to find Yingying and bring her home.

As for Christensen’s court date, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says that’s now likely to change. His trial was supposed to start February 27. The U.S. government also still has to respond to the defense’s motions  filed Monday, including the request to drop the charge of kidnapping leading to death and the request to move the trial location. The government has until January 29 to respond. 

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