NOTE: The following are notes, in chronological order, taken by a reporter while watching the trial proceedings. They are not an official or unofficial transcript of the proceedings, and they’re not so thorough as to be interpreted as including everything that was said or seen in the courtroom.
Jump to notes by day:
- Day 1, Wednesday: Opening statements and first witnesses
- Day 2, Thursday: Defense calls for a mistrial; Christensen on tape talking to the FBI
- Day 3, Friday: Christensen’s girlfriend records him for the FBI
- Day 4, Monday: Defense takes issue with government’s presentation of evidence
- Day 5, Tuesday: “Undercover cop” investigation and the FBI dissects the apartment
- Day 6, Wednesday: DNA evidence and Bullis starts to testify
- Day 7, Thursday: Bullis describes recording conversations
- Day 8, Friday: Christensen’s ex-wife reluctantly testifies
- Day 9, Monday: Closing arguments, deliberations, and verdict
Jump to notes by highlights:
- Defense admits Christensen’s guilt in opening statements
- Christensen changes his story in FBI interview
- Defense calls for a mistrial
- Christensen’s search history and a duffel bag demonstration
- “I didn’t get away with it yet,” Christensen recorded saying disturbing things to his girlfriend
- Bondage porn, serial killers, abduction fantasy: Christensen’s digital history
- Inside Christensen’s apartment
- Luminol fluoresces as investigators dissect the apartment
- Damning DNA evidence
- “I was terrified” — how Bullis secretly recorded her boyfriend for the FBI
- Christensen speaks in court for the first time
- Christensen’s ex-wife testifies
- Closing arguments
- The jury reaches a verdict
Day 1, Wednesday: Opening statements and first witnesses
Before the court is in session, FBI Special Agent Anthony Manganaro wheels in a cart of binders and crates containing folders. Yingying Zhang’s family is seated in the front left, and the team of US Attorneys walk over and shake hands with them.
Brendt Christensen looked back at someone in the audience and smiled.
“All rise, court is now in session.”
“Thank you, please be seated,” said Judge Jim Shadid. “This is the United States versus Brendt Christensen.”
Court convenes with the judge addressing a motion to continue filed by the defense– a “hail Mary” pitch for them to delay the trial. They say it’s because new evidence has been uncovered after Zhang’s estate filed a new civil lawsuit against Christensen and two UI counselors. They want the trial to be postponed until they get a chance to review that new evidence.
The judge denied the request, saying there was an extensive history of preparation for Christensen’s criminal case, and that it would be too difficult to disrupt the schedule of witnesses they’ve already prepared.
The jury is sworn in and given their instructions. Time for opening statements.
The government makes opening statements
Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller is up first. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he begins, “He kidnapped her. He murdered her. He covered up his crime.”
He showed pictures of Zhang as he told the story of her trip from China to the United States. She came here to continue her research in crop science, and it was her first time outside of China.
Miller recounts how Zhang had been dating her boyfriend Xiaolin Hou for some time. Zhang was living in an apartment in Orchard Downs, and had applied for a new apartment at One North in Urbana. Miller says she had an appointment to meet with the marketing manager on June 9th.
Miller says Zhang didn’t have a car, so she had to rely on the bus service. She texted the manager telling him she would be late, and to make things worse, he says she missed her connecting bus.
Then Miller starts talking about Christensen. “He would be the last person to see her alive,” he says.
He calls Christensen “highly intelligent”, and describes his education. He says Brendt developed an interest in serial killers back in December 2016, and downloaded photographs of women in bondage.
Miller says Christensen ordered a six-foot long duffel bag, and that his wife had begun dating another man, just as he started dating another woman. During conversations with counselors at the U of I, Miller tells the jury Christensen admitted having a fascination about serial killers.
“I don’t care how I am remembered. Just that I am,” Miller says Christensen said. “Fading into nothingness is not an option. I would rather destroy humanity.”
Miller’s opening statements continue. He says Christensen ordered a second duffel bag, which was delivered on June 6th of 2017. Then, Miller says he committed his crime during a weekend when his wife and her new boyfriend were on a trip to Wisconsin Dells.
Miller says Christensen bought a bottle of rum, shaved his facial hair, then drove across town looking for a victim.
Miller says Christensen eventually encountered a woman, and told her he was an undercover cop, asking the woman to get in the car so he could ask her some questions. Miller says that woman didn’t comply. She called the police and posted a warning on Facebook.
Miller says Brendt and his girlfriend texted each other about murder.
Miller says when Yingying Zhang got into his car, he drove toward One North, and disabled Zhang’s phone. Miller says he bound her hands, took her to his apartment, raped, and assaulted her.
“Her blood rained down the wall,” Miller said.
Miller says Christensen carried her to his bathtub, hit her on the head with a Louisville Slugger bat as hard as he could, then stabbed her in the neck and cut off her head.
Miller says Christensen disposed of her clothes, backpack, and iPhone– but he kept his mattress and baseball bat. Miller says he bought Drano and Swiffer pads, and started cleaning.
But he says the defendant failed to clean under the carpet, or behind the baseboard.
Then Miller tells the jury about how a search ensues. They find 18 black Saturn Astras like his in Champaign county, and interview all the owners.
Miller says Christensen told the FBI he slept and played video games all day. He allows agents to search his apartment and Astra.
Miller says the FBI found that he searched for information in iPhone tracking, and that he also cleaned his apartment and put in a maintenance request to have the bathroom treated for mold.
Furthermore, FBI agents had identified Christensen’s Astra by a damaged hubcap and its sunroof. Miller says the FBI seized the Astra. Seven agents searched it, and Brendt went to the FBI office to speak to them.
During that interview, Miller says he told them he’d seen videos of the Astra driving around. A detective told Christensen they knew he picked up Zhang. Miller says Christensen suddenly becomes confused, and describes giving Zhang a ride, but claims he let her out.
His opening statement continues, describing how Illinois State Police searched Christensen’s apartment as a crime scene. Miller says they found three red stains on the mattress. A fluorescent substance revealed a stain on the baseball bat.
Miller says Christensen’s wife Michelle agreed to an interview with the FBI, while Brendt was put under 24-hour surveillance.
Miller says Christensen told the FBI he used the duffel bag to take a cat tree to his girlfriend. However, Miller says the evidence shows she never saw it.
Miller tells the jury the story of Christensen and his girlfriend attending Zhang’s memorial walk.
“I just want to see how many people are here,” Miller says he said, “They’re here for me.”
Then Miller says Christensen described in detail how he did it. “I’m apparently very good at this,” he says Christensen told his girlfriend, going on to say Yingying Zhang was his 13th victim.
Miller does point out that the FBI hasn’t seen any other evidence that he had 12 other victims, though.
Miller says investigators brought in a cadaver-sniffing dog to his apartment. They seized a tray under the sink and seized the mattress. They found a dark stain under the carpet, and found DNA on all of those items that were identified as Zhang’s.
“You will hear, in the defendant’s own words, in awful detail,” Miller tells the jury as he asks them to return a guilty verdict.
Miller takes his seat. Now it’s the defense team’s turn.
The federal defender makes opening statements
Assistant Federal Defender George Taseff stands up and addresses the jury.
“We meet today under the most tragic circumstances,” he says. Then he says he’s about to tell them something shocking.
“Brendt Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang,” Taseff says, “Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang, and nothing that we say or do during this phase of the trial will be an attempt to sidestep or deny that Brendt Christensen is responsible for her death.”
Taseff addresses the question of why, then, there is even a trial. He says it’s because Brendt is on trial for his life, as he faces the death penalty.
He says he takes issue with some of the facts of the case the government will present, and refers to the recorded conversation Miller just told them about.
“Some of the things you’re going to hear Brendt say are shocking and horrible,” he says.
Taseff says the evidence will show that Christensen’s “13 victims” claims are false. He tells the jury the FBI “aggressively” investigated the claim, but found nothing to prove there were any other victims.
Taseff says Christensen was entering a “downward spiral” in his life. He visited a counseling service to try to overcome his substance abuse issues, including his habits of binge drinking and combining alcohol with medications.
Taseff says Christensen’s state of mind was not in a good place, and he was having dark thoughts.
Taseff says Christensen was 28 years old in 2017, and mentions his father Mike and his mother Ellen. He says he graduated with a double major in math and physics, and was a doctoral candidate.
But things began falling apart.
Taseff says Christensen developed issues with sleeping and depression.
“Everything went downhill,” says Taseff, pointing out Brendt earned straight F’s in the fall 2016 semester. His wife Michelle became unhappy, and asked Brendt for a divorce in March 2017.
As Taseff begins talking about Michelle, Christensen (sitting in the courtroom) appears to bury his head in his hands and wipe tears from his eyes.
Taseff recounts how Christensen went into counseling, having thoughts of self harm and considering himself a failure.
“How far along are your plans?” Taseff says a counselor asked Christensen. “Pretty far along,” he says Brendt replied.
Taseff says the counselors recommended him to go to Rosecrance in Champaign for treatment.
Taseff says Christensen met his girlfriend Terra on OkCupid, and within a week, they formed the beginning of a relationship. They entered into an arrangement where Brendt was dominant and Terra was submissive.
The weekend Zhang went missing, Taseff says Michelle went away with her boyfriend, staying at the same resort in Wisconsin Dells that Brendt and she stayed at during their honeymoon. Taseff says Brendt also got a text from Terra saying she was having sex with another man.
Having hit rock bottom, Taseff says Christensen goes to Schnucks, bought the “largest bottle” of cheap rum, and walks out the door just before 8 AM. He starts drinking and driving around.
“At around 2:10, he does the unthinkable,” Taseff says. “He takes her to his apartment. He kills her.”
Taseff says his team will cast doubt on the truth of what Christensen says in the recordings.
“This is a tragedy of immense proportions,” Taseff says, “Keep your heart and your mind open…”
Opening statements are done. Time for trial.
The government calls their first witness: Charles Hoskins, Jr.
After a short recess, prosecutors call Charles Hoskins, Jr. to the stand. He identifies himself as a patrol officer with the University of Illinois Police Department.
Hoskins testifies that after Zhang was reported missing, they began to search. He says they started with the Illini Union, and visited Orchard Downs apartments (where Zhang lived).
Hoskins searched Zhang’s apartment, and said it indeed looked like someone had been living there.
The defense did not cross-examine Hoskins.
Government witness #2: Xiaolin Hou
Xiaolin Hou says he’s 30 years old and currently lives in Beijing, China. He’s Yingying Zhang’s boyfriend.
Hou says he went to Sun Yat-Sen University in China, graduating in 2015. This summer, he’s going to Peking University in China, majoring in environmental engineering.
He says he and Zhang both met at Sun Yat-Sen back in 2009, and graduated at the top of their class. They were in the same class and had the same major. He planned to marry Zhang in October 2017.
The prosecutor asked how tall Yingying was. Hou said she was 159 centimeters, or about five feet, three inches.
He says he last saw his girlfriend in April 2017, and that he continues to search for her all the time. “We will never give up the hope to find her,” he says.
The defense did not cross-examine Hou.
Government witness #3: Randy Fouts
Randy Fouts says he’s the Assistant Operations Director for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. He’s a former police officer.
Fouts answers prosecutors’ questions about surveillance video footage collected by MTD buses. Evidence exhibits show the various camera angles on a bus. The government is establishing the credibility of surveillance footage to be shown later.
Fouts answers the government’s questions about which bus routes Zhang would have taken to get from Orchard Downs to One North.
The defense did not cross-examine Fouts.
Government witness #4: Kaiyu Guan
Kaiyu Guan is an Assistant Professor of Ecohydrology at the UI. He testifies that he sponsored Yingying Zhang to come to the United States to continue her studies as a visiting scholar.
He describes Zhang as hard-working and responsible.
When he wasn’t able to contact her for an extended period of time, he says he called the UI Police Department and made a “MISSING” poster.
He says he then led a party of people to pass out the posters. They divided Champaign-Urbana into 25 sectors and went around town distributing them.
Guan says he called Zhang’s phone several times, but never got an answer.
Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock cross-examined Guan. She asked about Zhang’s ability to speak English.
Guan testified that Zhang came to the US under the J-1 Visa Program, which is managed by the US Department of State. He says one of the requirements of the program is proficiency in English, and applicants are required to pass an interview and an exam in connection with that.
Pollock suggests that Zhang’s ability to speak English well was a main reason Guan selected her for the program, but Guan says English is a “basic requirement” for the program, and not a reason for selection.
Pollock reads an email Zhang sent to Guan, citing her proficient English.
Government witness #5: Rontrez Stone
Rontrez Stone says he used to work at One North apartments. He’s a regional sales person for The Scion Group, which owns and operates One North.
He says he lives in Chicago now, but in June 2017 he was working at One North.
Stone says Yingying Zhang filled out an application for an apartment there. The government shows the court pictures of a text message conversation between Stone and Zhang. Zhang tells Stone she’s going to be late to a meeting with him.
At 1:30 PM on Friday, June 9th, she sent “Maybe around 2:10,” indicating her expected arrival time. The text message picture shows Stone texted her at 1:36, but got no response.
Stone texted her again on Sunday, and says he never got a response to that, either.
The defense did not cross-examine Stone.
Government witness #6: Tara Hurless
Tara Hurless says she’s been a U of I police officer since 2013. She says in June 2017, she was working in the detective bureau.
Hurless says she was called into work one day and told to meet another detective at Willard Airport in Savoy. They went there to see if Yingying Zhang had caught a flight or rented a car.
They asked MTD for surveillance video, and went to search the last location where Zhang’s phone was pinged. They obtained video of Zhang boarding an MTD bus, and noted that she got off at the intersection of Springfield and Matthews.
The court watched bus surveillance video of a black Saturn Astra passing her. Surveillance video also shows Zhang running to catch up with another bus.
The defense did not cross-examine Hurless.
Government witness #7: Kenny Costa
Kenny Costa says he’s a Telecommunicator for the U of I Police Department. His job is to answer phones and perform other duties related to communication.
Costa testifies that he found video of Yingying Zhang walking north on Goodwin avenue, and getting into a car.
Before that, surveillance video presented to the court showed a black Astra turning east on Clark, and circling the block.
The Astra pulls up to Zhang. It looks like they talk for about 30-45 seconds, then Zhang enters the car. Costa testifies that the video shows the car driving north on Goodwin avenue.
The defense did not cross-examine Costa.
Government witness #8: George Sandwick
George Sandwick says he’s a U of I police officer.
He says he called several area car dealerships to see if Saturn Astras were recently traded, sold, or serviced. The purpose was to see if they could identify the owner of the car.
Sandwick says he went to Orchard Downs to secure DNA samples of Yingying Zhang. In her apartment, he says he recovered a toothbrush, hairbrush, and hair samples. He also took pictures of her apartment, which were shown in court.
Sandwick says when he left, he secured the door with evidence tape, to make sure it would be known if anyone else tried to enter the residence.
The defense did not cross-examine Sandwick.
Government witness #9: James Carter
James Carter says he’s a U of I Police sergeant.
He says he reviewed the surveillance video of Zhang getting into the Astra, and he noticed that it had a damaged hubcap. A zoomed-in still frame from the video was shown in court. Carter passed that information on to detectives.
Carter says UIPD canvassed several hundred homes, businesses, and storage units, looking for more surveillance footage to help find Zhang or identify a suspect, but they found none.
He says they obtained a search warrant for the Astra at 11:20 PM.
The defense did not cross-examine Carter.
The judge recessed court for the day.
Day 2, Thursday: Defense calls for a mistrial; Christensen on tape talking to the FBI
Before the jury was called in, Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller told the judge he submitted stipulations regarding the admissibility of certain evidence.
The government called their tenth witness to the stand.
Government witness #10: Gene Moore
Gene Moore says he’s a U of I Police sergeant.
He says on the night of June 11th, 2017, he was called in to work for an officer-involved shooting. While en route to that, he was informed that a UIPD officer arrested someone for impersonating a police officer.
Moore says that turned out not to be the suspect in Zhang’s abduction.
When Moore returned to the police station, he says Telecommunicator Kenny Costa told him about the surveillance video. Moore says he contacted Uber to find if they had any records of pick-ups or drop-offs in the area where Zhang was seen getting into the car.
They had no records. In June 2017, Lyft didn’t operate in Champaign-Urbana yet.
Moore says the UIPD put out a missing person bulletin for Zhang. Moore says he subpoenaed Zhang’s bank records to try to find her. The bank did comply, but 10 days later. Bank records shown to the court listed Zhang as last having used her debit card on June 7th.
Moore says they couldn’t find records of Zhang’s university ID card being used to swipe into any buildings.
On Monday night, Moore says the FBI joined the investigation. At that point, a national missing person network contacted UIPD.
Moore says he was part of the search team that executed the search warrant on the black Saturn Astra. The Astra was towed to the Champaign Police Department, where the doors, sunroof, and windows were sealed with evidence tape.
The defense did not cross-examine Moore.
Government witness #11: Joel Smith
Joel Smith says he’s a Special Agent with the FBI, and a captain in the US Air Force. He says he became involved in the case on June 12th, and went to UIPD to be briefed.
Smith says the Illinois Department of State provided them with a printout of all area owners of black Saturn Astras. Then, they split up into two-person teams to start canvassing the addresses of the owners. Smith paired up with FBI Special Agent Michael Carter.
Smith says they went to Christensen’s address first, but only by chance– he just happened to be the closest to the FBI’s Champaign field office.
Smith says he knocked on the door, and Christensen and his wife answered it. The government asks Smith to identify Christensen in court, and he points to him sitting at the defense table, noting that he’s wearing a gray shirt.
Smith says he asked to speak to Christensen about his whereabouts on June 9th. He says Brendt told him he was familiar with the missing person case, but that he didn’t remember anything about what he was doing that day.
Smith and Carter asked Christensen to take a look at his texts or emails to try and refresh his memory.
After doing that, Smith says Christensen told them he would have been sleeping or playing video games. Smith noted Brendt’s fingers were shaking as he went through his text messages.
Smith says they took 8 to 10 minutes to search his apartment, and Brendt and Michelle later gave them consent to search their Astra.
Smith says he stood outside the car and talked to Christensen while Carter searched the car. Smith says they talked about Wisconsin, since they’re both originally from there, and that the conversation seemed normal.
However, when Carter opened up the glove box, he says he noticed Christensen break eye contact to focus on the search.
Smith says he got their contact info, and they continued their canvassing. They got surveillance footage from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, which was north of Zhang’s abduction site.
They also went to the Circle K on Green street and a nearby Family Video to ask for footage.
During the afternoon of June 14th, Smith says they had a meeting at UIPD, and they learned about the damaged hubcap and sunroof on the suspect’s vehicle.
Smith says he and Special Agent Katherine Tenaglia went back to Christensen’s apartment complex to take another look at his Astra. They saw one of the hubcaps matched the damage depicted in the surveillance footage.
Smith says a search warrant for the Astra was executed at 11:44 that evening, and a team of seven agents seized it. At that point, they also wanted to interview Brendt and Michelle.
He says he called Brendt’s phone while standing outside of the door, while another agent knocked on the door. Christensen answered and let them inside. Smith says he did a quick security sweep of the apartment, and Special Agent Andrew Huckstadt got consent from Michelle to search it.
Smith says six or seven agents took an hour to do that, removing computer towers, laptops, cellphones, a camera, aviator sunglasses, external hard drives, and hair clippings from the apartment.
Smith says they later went to at least two dozen places to look for more surveillance footage. They went to Schnucks to find out what Brendt bought, and went to Centennial Park to search “big belly garbage bins”.
He explains to the jury that those are eight-foot deep bins that are in the ground. Smith says the park district helped them remove the bins, and they went through the trash, but found no evidence.
Smith says they also searched creek beds and drainage culverts, but didn’t find any evidence. At this point, Smith says he met up with Christensen’s girlfriend to get a recording device from her.
The search for evidence continued, Smith saying they spent two hours checking a wooded area north of Champaign. They found no evidence of Yingying Zhang.
He says a Crimestoppers tip lead them to Murdock Mine, an abandoned mine in Douglas county. They found no evidence there, either.
Smith says all of this searching meant three weeks of 20-hour workdays for them.
In court, Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock cross-examines Smith. She asks him who else they interviewed.
Smith says they got a tip that someone was seen discarding trash in southwest Champaign. Again, no evidence was found. Pollock got Smith to confirm that at this point, their searches were mostly driven by tips.
Smith testified that they also interviewed a woman Christensen met on Tinder and was having sex with. He obtained their text and Facebook messages. Smith says he was doing this to find out what kind of people Christensen was involving himself with.
The prosecution objected to Pollock’s line of questioning, saying it was out of context. After a brief discussion, the judge allowed her to continue her questioning.
Smith testified that it was Michelle Christensen’s decision to open up their marriage. The FBI also interviewed multiple other sexual partners of Brendt’s.
Government witness #12: David Morgan
David Morgan says he works for Schnucks. He says there are about 63 cameras at the Champaign store.
Prosecutors show surveillance footage of a man resembling Christensen walking into the store at 7:40-something in the morning on June 9th.
The man takes a large bottle of liquor off of a shelf, and goes to the checkout counter to buy it.
They also show the court receipt records matching the time of the surveillance footage, showing Brendt Christensen spending $20 to buy a handle of Admiral Nelson’s rum.
More surveillance footage shown in court depicted the same man entering the store again on June 12th, this time buying a cart full of items.
Receipts show he paid for everything in two different transactions: one with cash, and the other with card. He bought Drano, a fruit bar, and cheese with the credit card, and paid cash for milk, yogurt, bananas, broccoli, and 13-gallon kitchen trash bags.
The defense did not cross-examine Morgan.
Before taking a break, Judge Jim Shadid excused the jury and told members of the news media in the courtroom that certain pieces of evidence would be posted on the district court’s website later.
Government witness #13: Anthony Manganaro, Part 1
Anthony Manganaro says he’s a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI.
In June 2017, he was working out of the Champaign field office. Manganaro says one night in June, he’d just gotten home with dinner, and got a phone call instructing him to go to UIPD for the missing person investigation.
Manganaro says one agent was trying to decipher cell phone records. Manganaro says they also looked at the list of Saturn Astras in the area.
He says he called in about a dozen agents, then split everyone into pairs. He says they tried to find a picture of the Astra’s license plate.
After a witness went to a UIPD officer with possible information, Manganaro says they contacted their operations center to get a photo lineup of possible suspects for the witness to review.
They also got a warrant to search Zhang’s laptop to see if there was any information about where she might be, but they didn’t find anything.
Manganaro says they put out their own missing person/kidnapping bulletin, and had the message displayed on billboards as far away as Indianapolis.
He says he met United States Magistrate Judge Eric Long at Parkland College around 10 PM to sign a warrant for Christensen’s Astra. He says in the meantime, agents had been keeping their eye on the car.
Late on June 14th, Manganaro says they went to Christensen’s apartment and told him and his wife they were seizing the Astra.
Brendt agreed to go to the FBI office and do an interview with them. The prosecution shows the court a form Christensen signed acknowledging he’d been read his rights.
The court is shown a video of Christensen being questioned by Manganaro and UIPD detective Eric Stiverson. The three of them are sitting at a table in a small conference room. Christensen says the week of Zhang’s disappearance, he’d been looking for jobs.
Watch the whole interview video here.
“I was either playing video games on my computer or taking an afternoon nap,” he said of the afternoon of June 9th.
He says he was looking for an alibi in his text messages, and that he had a phone interview for a job on Thursday.
“Why am I under suspicion?” he asks the investigators, “My car, or is it anything else?”
Manganaro says, “I mean, we’re talking about a very rare car.”
The conversation steers toward Brendt’s past: for example, how he met his wife during his undergraduate years. Christensen circled back to reiterating that he was at his apartment on June 9th playing games or sleeping “literally all day.”
Eventually, Stiverson says “You know that we didn’t bring you all the way up here to talk about video games and what you had for lunch that day.”
“Okay,” says Christensen.
“Why do you think we brought you up here?” asks Stiverson.
They continue to press Christensen about what he was doing on Friday, and about his claims of staying home.
“It’s fair to say that we know that’s not true,” Stiverson says.
“Why would I lie?” asks Christensen.
Manganaro speaks about the Astra, saying “Believe me when I say that the full weight and force of the FBI is going to descend on that vehicle.”
At this point, Stiverson had switched to a “bad-cop” style of interrogation.
“I want to find her,” Manganaro says, “I’m asking for help…Brendt, I need to know why she’s getting into your car and I need to know where he went.”
They tell Christensen they had surveillance footage of his Astra driving around campus.
“I’ve seen the videos,” says Christensen, “But I didn’t see me.”
Stiverson continues to press him: “I know that you picked her up. I know you did. Where did you drop her off?”
Eventually, after a long pause, Christensen softly speaks “Maybe I’m getting my days mixed up,” saying he had confused Friday and Saturday.
“I did pick a girl up, but I don’t know where…I was driving around, and I saw a girl [who looked distressed]”. Christensen tells them he dropped her off after a couple of blocks.
As the video continues to play, the investigators note that he has a scratch on his right bicep. Christensen says, “I scratch myself when I sleep.”
Christensen says after picking the girl up, he went north, claiming he knew the area around Loomis Laboratory, but didn’t know the residential area he was in.
At some point, “She wanted to get out of the car,” he says, “She started pulling on the door. It was locked.” Then he says he pulled over to let her out.
The investigators ask him for a more detailed description of the woman, but he doesn’t provide much of one.
“I have trouble telling Asians apart, sorry,” he says. He tells them that picking her up was random and out of character for him.
“She looked freaked out, so I offered her a ride.”
Christensen also says “She wanted to get out. That’s why I let her out…I let her out and that was the last I saw of her.”
Stiverson expresses frustration that Christensen didn’t bring any of this up earlier, when the agents talked to him the first time.
“So what did you think two agents were at your house talking to you about?” he asked. Christensen reiterates that he had his days mixed up.
Manganaro steers the conversation back to the ride he gave the woman. “So where did you go after?” he asks.
“Home,” says Christensen.
“Straight home?” asks Manganaro.
“Yeah, that was enough for me that day,” says Christensen.
The video continues to play in the courtroom. The investigators start asking him about his relationship situation, and about his wife taking a trip with another man to Wisconsin Dells.
“How did that make you feel?” Stiverson asks.
“Lonely,” says Christensen.
“Is that why you were driving around all day?” Stiverson says.
“Just trying to clear my head,” says Christensen.
He says he drove around Orchard Downs because he had a friend who lived there, but he turned back and went toward campus.
Eventually Manganaro asks about the woman he gave a ride to again.
“My theory is that she didn’t get out of the car,” he says.
“Okay,” says Christensen.
“We will find her,” says Stiverson, “Now when we find her is up to you, because you know and we know that she didn’t just get out of your car.”
The investigators start asking Brendt about his sexual preferences; specifically if he’s attracted to Asian girls.
“Were you hoping for a quick tryst with her, or…?” they ask.
“I mean, that would have been nice,” Christensen says.
Stiverson starts detailing his own background and years of experience in law enforcement.
“I get that sometimes people lie to me,” he tells Brendt, “At this point, we’re trying to help you. We’re trying to help her. We’re trying to help her family. I don’t think you’re a bad person. But something happened.”
Stiverson continues, “We know that she didn’t get out of your car. You need to be honest with us.”
Christensen says nothing. “We need to find her,” Manganaro says.
“I think I’ve told you,” says Christensen.
Later, Stiverson asks “Were you attracted to her at all?”
“A reasonable amount,” says Christensen.
“Did the thought cross your mind?” Stiverson asks, referring to the possibility Christensen might have a sexual encounter with the woman.
“Yeah, the thought crossed my mind,” Christensen says, then going on to deny that he ever had sexual contact with her.
Later, Manganaro asks “Where’d you take her, Brendt? We need to find Yingying.”
Christensen says, “I think it’s time that I stopped answering questions. I know the typical advice is to get a lawyer before you answer anything, and I think I’ve tried to help enough.”
The investigators stop questioning him, and the video of the interview ends. The judge recesses court for a lunch break.
The defense calls for a mistrial
Court reconvenes after a lunch break. Before the jury is called in, Assistant Federal Defender George Taseff announces to the court his team is making a motion to declare a mistrial.
He says the last 60 seconds of the interview video were problematic, because he believes the jury shouldn’t have been shown the part where Christensen stopped answering questions and wanted a lawyer.
Taseff presents the prosecution and the judge with at least one court case (possibly a few of them). Taseff says in those cases, it was ruled that evidence of defendants invoking their right to remain silent wasn’t admissible in court, on the grounds that it could bias the jury against the defendant.
Taseff says the prosecution can’t comment on questions the defendant refuses to answer.
“This is terribly prejudicial to this man,” Taseff says, “They’re hearing he invoked his rights.”
The judge asks why the defense didn’t raise this issue before the video was played. The defense team claims a transcript for the video wasn’t provided for them.
The judge denies the motion for a mistrial, in light of Taseff’s own opening statement in which he already admitted his client’s guilt of Zhang’s kidnapping and death. Because of that, Judge Jim Shadid decides their current dispute about the last part of the interview video wouldn’t change the outcome as far as the jury’s decision.
Anthony Manganaro testimony, Part 2
With Manganaro still on the witness stand, and now that the interview video has just finished playing, the government continues asking him questions.
Sometime in the middle of the video, Manganaro was seen getting up to take a phone call outside of the interview room. The prosecution asks him what that was about.
Manganaro says he was in communication with authorities over whether they would charge Christensen with the crime of lying to the FBI. Manganaro says at that time, they decided not to press the charge.
Manganaro answers questions about various items taken from Christensen’s apartment, and says they installed a GPS tracking device in Christensen’s Camaro (he and his wife’s other car). Manganaro says Christensen reached back out to them a couple days later to do another voluntary interview.
By June 18th, Manganaro says Christensen was already under 24-hour surveillance, and that he asked for an FBI command post to be set up in Champaign. He says staffers from Springfield and as far as Dallas and New York were brought in to assist with the investigation.
As that progressed, he says additional warrants were written.
Manganaro tells prosecutors that Christensen attended a walk and concert for Zhang a couple weeks after she was last seen. He says there was an FBI surveillance group there.
Manganaro says he and Special Agent Andrew Huckstadt met with Christensen’s girlfriend Terra Bullis, who appeared distraught.
Manganaro also describes what the FBI had to do to store all the data from the investigation. He says they had to buy “12 or so” multiple-terabyte hard drives just for the MTD surveillance video.
The government shows the court maps of a black Astra’s driving routes throughout Champaign-Urbana on the morning and afternoon of June 9th. Manganaro also answers questions about the FBI’s search for a green duffel bag.
Manganaro says the FBI obtained Christensen’s Amazon and UPS shipping records. The court is shown images of Amazon records. They show Christensen bought a “Heavyweight Cotton Canvas Outback Duffle Bag,” size “Colossal”.
Continuing to answer the government’s questions about this, Manganaro says Christensen’s records show he bought the bag in March 2017, but returned it. Then he bought it again in June.
Manganaro says he got his FBI office to purchase the exact same bag, and demonstrates it to the jury. The bag is six feet long and 20-some inches wide. He says the FBI never recovered the bag Christensen bought.
Then the government shows the court exhibits of Christensen’s Google search history. Manganaro explains that Christensen used two separate Google accounts: one that was based on his name, and “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
Manganaro goes over the records, and testifies that Christensen searched for ingredients in cleaning products, how iPhone tracking works, Yingying Zhang search updates on the UIPD website, Zhang’s newly-created Wikipedia page, her emergency fund page on the U of I Community Credit Union website, news articles about her abduction, Illinois’ obstruction of justice laws, and the walk and concert for her.
Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock cross-examines Manganaro. She gets him to agree that Christensen’s “lovemachine689” account is “whimsical” in nature.
During her line of questioning, Manganaro says that account was created in April, which Pollock points out, would have been only a few weeks after Michelle asked Brendt for a divorce.
Pollock also questions the government’s presented timeline of Christensen’s activities the morning of June 9th. During opening statements, Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller told the jury Christensen went to the store to buy a bottle of rum, then went home and shaved, then started driving around town.
Based on the timestamps of surveillance footage of the Astra driving around that morning (which was presented during Manganaro’s testimony), Pollock suggests that Christensen would have only had 15 to 20 minutes to run to Schnucks, go back home and shave, then head to campus to start driving around. Manganaro admits that the timeline for that would be “tight”.
With Manganaro’s testimony of the investigation timeline, Pollock points out that, after the first time Christensen bought the duffel bag, he returned it in April, which was after he started going to counseling.
Manganaro testifies that the second bag Christensen bought remained in his apartment until Monday, June 12th. He says Michelle told them she watched Brendt carry the bag out of the apartment, and without much difficulty.
Manganaro says Michelle didn’t mention anything out of the ordinary, such as smells. Pollock also has Manganaro say that Christensen had no prior criminal history.
When Pollock is done answering questions, court recesses for the day.
Day 3, Friday: Christensen’s girlfriend records him for the FBI
Christensen’s dad enters the courtroom and steps to the side closest to his son. They tell each other “I love you,” and his dad says “Stay strong”. Christensen seems to be glad to see his dad.
Before the jury is brought in, the defense makes a verbal request to the judge to either declare a mistrial (for the second time), or for additional instructions to be provided to the jury.
They say there’s no evidence that Christensen killed anyone else other than Zhang, and says the government presenting it as evidence is meant to bias the jury against him.
Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller says Christensen’s recorded statements are the actual evidence.
The defense requests instructions be read to the jury that there’s no evidence of Christensen killing 12 other people. It’s not clear to this reporter what exactly the judge ruled, but he certainly didn’t declare a mistrial.
Government witness #14: Michael Carter, Part 1
Michael Carter says he’s a Special Agent for the FBI.
He says he was part of the team that canvassed Champaign county for black Saturn Astras. He was partnered with Special Agent Joel Smith during that.
Carter testifies that he went to Christensen’s apartment to question him. He says Christensen said he was aware a student was missing. Carter says Brendt told them he was sleeping or playing video games on June 9th.
Carter says they obtained surveillance video from MTD. When they searched Christensen’s apartment in the early morning hours of June 15, Carter says his team was interested in electronic evidence.
In the courtroom, an Assistant US Attorney showed the jury two desktop computers and a cellphone in a bag. Carter confirms that these items were seized from Christensen’s apartment during the search.
Now another video is played in the courtroom — this time, it’s the second interview Christensen had with FBI agents. They were asking him about his activities throughout the week of June 8-14, 2017.
“I want to get this cleared up,” Christensen says in the video.
He tells the agents he was with his wife at home on Thursday the 8th, and that he had a phone interview with Wolfram Research.
“I procrastinated a bit. That kind of stuff,” Christensen said, now talking about what he did after he woke up Friday morning. “Then what I did next, I went to Schnucks.”
After that, he tells the agents, “I was not really in a great mood. My wife was gone. I was lonely, so I went for a drive.”
Then he says he saw a woman who looked panicked.
“I wasn’t doing anything anyway, so I pulled up by her and asked if she needed help,” Christensen tells the agents.
Shortly after she got in the car, he says he assumed he misinterpreted her directions. “She started really freaking out. She was grabbing her hair.”
The agents tell Christensen they’re still waiting on the GPS data to come back from his car. He sounds confused, or that he didn’t know the car had GPS.
The agents tell him it’s an On-Star type system, and it will take a few days to process it. They tell him this because he wants his car back, and they want him to tell them what route he took.
Eventually the conversation shifts to why he went to the store on June 12th.
“Something in my apartment was smelling,” Christensen says, mentioning he went to buy Drano and baking soda. He says his sink was clogged.
Christensen’s girlfriend gets brought up, and he refers to her as “Bunny”. That weekend he says his wife “was with her boyfriend and I wasn’t super happy about it.”
The agents ask him about the duffel bag. Christensen tells them it contained a cat tree he bought as a gift for his girlfriend. But he says he discovered it was broken, so he left it either near the sidewalk or put it in the passenger seat of the car.
He says he doesn’t actually remember or know where the bag went.
“This is a freakin’ nice duffel bag,” he says, “It was relatively new.”
The interview video is paused. In the courtroom, Carter testifies that he and Special Agent Katherine Tenaglia met with Loss Prevention staff of Walmart.
He says they checked every single purchase of a cat tower at the Walmart stores in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy over the last 60 days, and matched each one with surveillance video. They did not find Christensen in any of those instances.
The video starts playing again. Christensen tells the agents he cleaned out his car. He says he nicked his finger, causing him to bleed in the car. In court, Carter testifies that the FBI didn’t actually recover any blood from the Astra.
Back in the video, Christensen talks about how working out is a passion he shares with his wife, and that he works out at the Refinery gym. He tells the agents he needs his computer back so he can apply for jobs.
Talking again about giving Zhang a ride, Christensen says “I don’t know why I did it,” saying it was out of character for him.
At the end of the video, Christensen reiterates he’s there to try to sort things out.
“I know how it looks,” he says, “That’s why I’m so terrified. That’s why I’m here…I know I didn’t do it…if something was found, I would be in jail right now…the fastest way is to find her, so if she’s found, this is all over.”
Judge Shadid then calls for a quick break.
The defense raises another issue
Defense attorney Julie Brain tells the judge the prosecution’s statements of Christensen’s claimed 12 other victims are “extremely problematic”.
She argues there’s no sense in the government presenting the case as if he may have committed other murders “when we all know he didn’t.”
Judge Shadid works with both legal teams briefly on crafting wording of instructions to the jury to clarify how the issue should be interpreted as evidence.
Michael Carter testimony, Part 2
After a break, the jury returns to the courtroom. Michael Carter is still on the witness stand.
He testifies that agents took Christensen for a ride, first going to the site where Zhang was abducted and having him tell them where he would have gone next.
Carter says Christensen told them he went north on Goodwin, then took a left on Beslin, and says Zhang would have gotten out somewhere around there.
The court is shown a Walmart receipt as a piece of evidence, along with surveillance video of Christensen at the register. He’s seen buying Swiffer pads, more Drano, and “food storage” (possibly containers).
Carter says they searched other places for evidence, such as Allerton Park near Monticello.
The defense does not cross-examine Carter.
Government witness #15: Andrew Huckstadt, Part 1:
Andrew Huckstadt says he’s a Special Agent with the FBI. He says he became involved in Zhang’s abduction investigation on June 12th.
He says he asked Michelle Christensen for an interview, and consent to search their apartment, which she agreed to. During their search, Huckstadt says Michelle mentioned in passing that Christensen’s favorite book is “American Psycho”.
The defense objects to that as hearsay, but the judge allows the line of questioning to continue.
Huckstadt details how agents seized external hard drives, cellphones, laptops, desktop computers, keys, sunglasses, Christensen’s driver’s license, and his debit card from his apartment. The jury is shown Christensen’s aviator sunglasses in a plastic bag.
The court is about to be shown a video of Christensen in a counseling center, but the defense raises an objection to it being shown, and the jury is recessed.
Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock says they haven’t seen the clips of the video the government is about to play, and argues that the way the clips are cut up could portray Christensen in a prejudicial manner. Therefore, she says the defense wants the entire video to be played.
Judge Shadid rules that the government can play their clips, but the defense will be allowed the chance to play the entire video later.
The jury is called back in. The video everyone was about to watch is hard to understand, and there is no transcript for it. There’s an attempt to use the headphones, but there are technical difficulties with them so the headphones are ditched.
The video shows Christensen talking to a counseling staff member. “I’ve always been interested in the bad guys,” he tells her.
He says he developed an interest in Ted Bundy because he’s “Literally the worst person I’ve ever heard of.”
Christensen also makes comments about his own intelligence. “As time progressed I realized that although I am smart…I’m not a genius,” he said.
The counseling staff member asks him how far along his plans were as far as whether he’d commit a crime, and if he had any specific people in mind.
“Not specific people,” Christensen tells her, “There’s probably a type I would look for.”
In the courtroom, Huckstadt says Christensen’s girlfriend Terra Bullis was cooperative during her first interview with the FBI. During the FBI’s second interview with her, Huckstadt says she let agents have a copy of her text messages.
Huckstadt says Bullis recorded nine conversations for the FBI over the last weeks of June 2017. Two of those conversations were over the phone, and seven of them were in person.
He says she used a device about half the size of a sticky note. The government presents the device as a piece of evidence, and Huckstadt confirms what it is.
At this point, Huckstadt says Christensen had been under 24 hour surveillance, which continued since the Astra was seized and the search warrant for his apartment was executed.
The courtroom is played a recorded phone conversation between Christensen and his girlfriend. Christensen tells her he would “love to wake up to an essay”, and he calls her “My kitten.”
A second recording is played– this one is of an in-person conversation. Christensen explains that he’s going to go back to the FBI to do a second interview with them because “I’m trying to clear my name,” he says.
Bullis tells him, “Everything I get something to eat, I get sick. Because of everything that’s going on.”
Christensen later says, “I’m still free, right? But that truck down there is the thing following me.”
He then calls it “amusing” that he noticed he was being followed, and said that they could follow him all they wanted.
“I’m glad you’re laughing about it,” Bullis tells him.
Huckstadt explains to the jury that the FBI had remained rather overt in their surveillance so they could monitor Bullis’s safety.
Another recorded conversation shows Christensen calling FBI Special Agent Katherine Tenaglia, wanting to meet again to clear everything up.
Yet another recorded conversation played in court is an exchange between him and Bullis. “I don’t want you caught up in this more than you have to be,” he tells her.
Bullis says, “Michelle mentioned some sort of bag last night and I don’t know what she was even talking about.”
Christensen tells her it was a cat tower, a present for her. “That’s so random,” Bullis says. Christensen tells her he left it outside somewhere, and has no idea where it was.
“[Michelle] told [the FBI] everything about me,” he told her, “And that scares me, too.”
He later is recorded saying “They don’t have a damn thing…they’re searching for something that doesn’t exist.”
At that point, he tells Bullis he was just trying to “Help us, help Michelle, and help find this girl.”
Another recording is played in court. Christensen says Michelle read a news article and frantically started texting him, wondering if something happened to him. Christensen later told Bullis the car was a “false lead.”
“Michelle thinks they’re trying to turn us against one another,” one of them says.
Christensen complains to Bullis about the fact that the FBI took his shoes, saying he wants his shoes back.
Huckstadt is still on the witness stand. Now, the government shows the courtroom several pictures and video clips of Christensen and his girlfriend attending Yingying Zhang’s walk and concert on the UI campus on June 29th, 2017.
Huckstadt says Bullis also recorded their conversation during the walk.
Before approaching Brendt, Bullis tells the recording device that he had an alcoholic drink with him.
“This is ridiculous,” she says at the end.
At some point, Bullis asks if they’re also going to the concert.
“Going to the concert that’s also for me,” Christensen says, “This is between me and you.”
Much of the recording is almost impossible to understand, but with the aid of a transcript, certain parts are easier to hear.
“Keep in mind I haven’t admitted anything,” Christensen says to her, “…Just wanted to see how many people were here…for me.”
After a brief pause, a second recording is played in the courtroom. The following are excerpts this reporter decided it was noteworthy to write down:
TB: “Would you really let me…do things with you?”…FBI audio recording evidence
TB: “Do you always make them disappear?”
TB: “You got away with it?
BC: “I didn’t get away with it yet.”
At some point, Bullis says she doesn’t want to take an Uber home, and prefers to walk.
TB: “My version of safer is walking at night with a serial killer.”
BC: “Yeah. That’s me.”FBI audio recording evidence
BC: “Nobody knows what happened…except for me.”
BC: “She was valiant.”
TB: “Did she fight?”
BC: “She fought more than anyone else I’ve ever met…she was stronger than any victim I’ve ever had.”
BC: “I had to decide if I was going to literally knock her out or kind of let her hands in front of her…”
BC: “Surprising. It was shocking, truly.”
Christensen also describes how this is about “my legacy.”
BC: “Yingying is the only person that has produced evidence that leads back to me. Number 13. I’ve been at this since I was 19.”…FBI audio recording evidence
BC: “They have the bat that I hit her head with.”
Christensen is recorded saying he tried to choke Zhang to death for 10 minutes, and that she wouldn’t die.
BC: “I got the bat and I hit her on the head as hard as I could and it broke her head open…at that point I didn’t know if she was dead or not so I had a knife and I stabbed her in the neck and she grabbed for it…”…FBI audio recording evidence
BC: “I chopped her head off.”
BC: “Some people were gone in one punch, some people were gone in 10.”
Christensen is heard on the recording comparing himself to Ted Bundy. He describes removing Zhang’s clothes and “doing stuff”.
He says he could never harm Bullis the same way because she’s “too big”.
“It’s like getting rid of 100 pounds versus 150 pounds,” he says, “There’s a lot of extra s*** to get rid of.”
Christensen sounds like he’s bragging that the reward for information leading to finding Zhang is the biggest reward Crime Stoppers has ever had.
TB: “Do you think you might be the next successful serial killer?”
BC: “I already am.”FBI audio recording evidence
BC: ‘I’m the most successful person who has done this in the last 30 years.”
Christensen says Yingying was “gone”, and that he won’t even tell Bullis where she is.
“I am apparently very good at this,” he says. “[Her family] are gonna leave empty handed.”
The video ends. Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock starts to cross-examine Andrew Huckstadt. She begins by agreeing with him that what everyone just heard was “deeply disturbing.”
Pollock accuses Bullis of egging Christensen on. Huckstadt says her job that day was to keep Christensen talking to get as much information as possible out of him.
Pollock then asks Huckstadt about the FBI’s investigation into Christensen’s recorded claim that he killed 12 other people. Huckstadt says information was sent to FBI offices in Wisconsin to see if any missing person cases could be tied back to Christensen.
Huckstadt confirms Christensen’s claim remains unverified. Pollock grills him, saying that several missing person cases on the list were of babies.
“You didn’t think Mr. Christensen killed babies in Wisconsin, did you?” she asked.
At that moment, Judge Shadid decided to recess for the week. Court will resume again on Monday at 9:15 am.
Day 4, Monday: Defense takes issue with evidence presentation
The day begins with Judge Shadid addressing a motion the defense team filed over the weekend.
They want the judge to compel the University of Illinois to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt of court, after the defense says they failed to provide documentation the team subpoenaed.
That documentation had to do with Christensen’s treatment at the UI Counseling Center. The judge said he would review the motion. The U of I gave WCIA a statement on the matter, which you can read here.
Andrew Huckstadt testimony, Part 2:
FBI Special Agent Andrew Huckstadt returns to the stand, which is where he was when court recessed on Friday. Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock is cross-examining him.
During his testimony on Friday, the government played an audio file of Christensen’s girlfriend Terra Bullis recoding his speech while at the walk for Yingying Zhang. Pollock says they didn’t play the end of the tape, and asks for that to be done now.
Christensen’s wife Michelle is giving Christensen and his girlfriend a ride home after they went to the walk.
After Michelle picks them up, at some point Christensen calls one of them “sweetie,” then remarks that “Nobody knows who I’m talking about when I say sweetie.”
“I assumed you were talking to me,” says Michelle.
Michelle asks if Brendt is drunk, and Bullis says he is.
At this point, Pollock asks for a WCIA video clip (now a government exhibit) to be pulled up. It shows Christensen and Bullis walking together at Zhang’s walk.
Pollock points out the red watter bottle Christensen is carrying on the side of his backpack, questioning Huckstadt about whether it contained alcohol.
Pollock again presses Huckstadt about Christensen’s recorded claim that he’s killed 12 other victims. He testifies that analysts looked into 19 missing persons cases in Wisconsin, and investigated whether Christensen could have had a hand in them.
He says the FBI sent Christensen’s DNA profile to some police departments that were investigating missing person cases.
“After all this investigation,” Pollock says, “Not one shred of evidence that he has ever killed anyone else.”
Huckstadt agrees there is no evidence the FBI has corroborated supporting it.
Pollock brings up the fact that, on the recording, Christensen is heard saying he killed Zhang in his bathtub. After questioning, Huckstadt admits that there were wasn’t any DNA evidence of Zhang having been in his bathroom.
He does, however, mention that there was evidence Christensen had cleaned the bathroom.
Huckstadt testifies that there were multiple positive DNA test results for Zhang in his bedroom.
Pollock then brings up FetLife.com, describing it as “Facebook for kinky people.” Huckstadt agrees with that characterization.
He says it’s a place where people can discuss similar fetishes, make friends, and send messages.
Pollock says Christensen joined FetLife in April 2017, a few days after he and Bullis first connected. She submitted Defense Exhibit 1, which was Christensen’s login record on the site.
Pollock says the government has described screenshots of Christensen’s activity on the site as doing research on abduction fantasies. She shows Huckstadt a spreadsheet of FetLife posts he made, saying he responded to an already existing one.
She then confirms from Huckstadt that Christensen had multiple DVDs and books in his home, and questions the FBI’s reasoning behind singling out his copy of “American Psycho.”
Pollock sits down, and Assistant US Attorney James Nelson steps up to recross him. He has Huckstadt confirm that this is the “uncut” version of “American Psycho.”
Nelson plays another clip from the audio recording. Brendt calls Michelle and asks her to pick him and his girlfriend up after the walk. He says they’re in the area of Springfield and Third, near some basketball courts.
With regard to Christensen’s claims of 12 victims, he says the FBI can only act on information they have. He says they’re still investigating and that just because the FBI hasn’t corroborated the evidence, doesn’t mean it’s not “impossible” Christensen killed other people.
Huckstadt testifies that Facebook complied with a search warrant. Text of messages Christensen sent over Facebook Messenger are shown to the court.
In them, he says he’s interested in exploring BDSM. “All these repressed emotions and desires were slowly corroding my mind,” he typed in one message.
Huckstadt testifies that investigators must have reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance video, searched acres upon acres of land, and spent thousands of man-hours, but never found Zhang’s remains.
Nelson sits down, and Pollock gets up again to recross Huckstadt.
“When was the last time you and Mr. Christensen hung out at a bar and got drunk?” she asks him.
“Never,” says Huckstadt.
Pollock says that therefore, he wouldn’t know what type of drunk Christensen is. She suggests that people sometimes say things online that aren’t entirely accurate. Huckstadt agrees.
Government witness #16: William O’Sullivan
William O’Sullivan says he’s a Senior Forensic Examiner at the FBI office in Springfield. His job is to analyze digital data.
He testifies that he examined the electronics seized in Christensen’s apartment in June 2017. He says he was in Champaign the night they were seized (June 15th), and took them back to Springfield.
O’Sullivan explains the process by which he extracts digital data.
Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller is questioning O’Sullivan. He steers the conversation toward Christensen’s FetLife profile.
O’Sullivan shows the court screenshots of Christensen’s activity on the site. His username is “Akuma689”.
“I want to test my limits,” Christensen says in his profile, saying he wants to experience more.
Christensen messaged a user to respond to their post about a rape/kidnapping fetish post. The two discuss how they would go about acting one out.
Christensen says he’d break into their house, bind them, and put them in a duffel bag, then into his car and possibly to a motel after that.
The user responded, saying the timing of him being able to abduct them from their home could be tricky.
Christensen says he’s been working out ways to do it, saying he would drive on the backroads or go out to a park. The two discuss a possible letter of consent in case the police became involved.
O’Sullivan testifies that the FBI didn’t recover any relevant location data on Christensen’s phone.
Miller than calls up Government Exhibit 34, which is a spreadsheet of the Christensen’s digital activity the FBI took note of during the search of his electronics.
O’Sullivan testifies that they have records showing Christensen downloaded articles on the minds of serial killers and human decomposition, and pornographic photographs of women in bondage.
Christensen had those photographs stored in a hidden folder on his Desktop. The court is shown some of the pictures.
Christensen’s history also shows he looked at Wikipedia articles on serial killers and the number of victims they had. He also viewed “Abduction 101” on FetLife, as well as articles on how to plan a kidnapping and “abduction play”.
Christensen also searched for knife sharpening.
His text messages show he texted his girlfriend Bullis, telling her he bought restraints, a blindfold, and a gag.
The two of them discuss that he’s planned to drink during the day, and he wants her to join him.
“I want company,” Christensen texts her, “Because then instead of becoming a sociopath I am in a good mood and have a good time with someone.”
He also texts her, “Fading into nothingness is the default for most people. If you want to know what terrifies me, it’s that…I will not fade away. I refuse. I don’t care how I am remembered. Just that I am…I would rather destroy humanity than let that happen.”
Christensen’s texts to her also mention the people he says have looked at him recently all seemed afraid. “I don’t want fear.” he texts her.
He tells her he doesn’t want to transition his “way of life,” now that he’s graduating. He refers to his lifestyle over the last eight years, and his heavy drinking. He doesn’t think he can transition into an 8-to-5 job.
The day Zhang was abducted, O’Sullivan testified as to what Christensen’s last recovered texts were before it happened.
He texted Bullis, “You don’t do the anything casual thing. From breathing, to fine dining, to…murder.”
“You’re unique,” he texted her, “and in a weird unique situation. It makes you my kitten.”
Bullis texts Christensen, saying she’s “indulging in my friskiness” with another man.
Throughout the afternoon, the record shows Michelle texted Brendt. The content of those messages was redacted in the FBI’s report shown in court.
Brendt texted michelle at 3:51 PM, an hour or two after Zhang was abducted. That message was redacted.
At 4:53. he texts Bullis, “How was your day? I’m exhausted.”
O’Sullivan testifies that their records show he opened several pornographic files and websites that evening.
The next morning, Christensen started searching for Yingying Zhang’s search updates.
After the FBI started canvassing Saturn Astra owners, he texted Bullis “The FBI was just here looking for a missing girl.
Apparently she got into a black Astra Friday morning and hasn’t been seen since.”
“That’s odd,” Bullis says in response at one point.
Throughout the next several days, Christensen continued to search for search updates.
Undated search history shows he also looked up “sodium hypochlorite”, which O’Sullivan says is a chemical name for bleach.
Pollock cross-examines O’Sullivan. She says that Christensen either is or was in a class about sociology during the spring semester, which could have explained his downloading of the research paper on serial killers.
She gets O’Sullivan to admit that the FBI had no context about why Christensen downloaded the article about human decomposition.
She also establishes that the FBI had no idea whether he was drunk or not when he was looking up these articles.
Looking at the spreadsheet of Christensen’s digital activity, she confirms with O’Sullivan that he was only on a Wikipedia page about serial killers for 31 seconds, then on another for a little more than a minute.
Prompted by Pollock’s questioning, O’Sullivan agrees he’s seen a lot over the years through his capacity at work, including legal and illegal pornography.
Pollock points out that compared to a lot of his cases, the amount of porn that Christensen had on his computer was “very small”, and that only a handful of images were violent depictions of women in bondage.
O’Sullivan agrees that most of the porn on his computer was “vanilla” and only a small percentage was shocking.
Pollock also asserts that, based on the FBI’s log, he didn’t spend all that much time on FetLife looking at “Abduction Q & A”. She also points out the fact that Christensen discussed having a written consent form with the user he was talking to about a possible abduction fantasy.
Pollock also has O’Sullivan confirm that there were thousands of text messages between Christensen and Bullis, yet only a handful were listed in the report the court saw.
O’Sullivan testifies that Bullis’s boyfriend was friends with Christensen on FetLife.
“Are you familiar with SpongeBob SquarePants?” she asks O’Sullivan at one point.
She points out that Christensen’s text to bullis about “breathing, to fine dining, to…murder” is a reference to a SpongeBob episode.
This reporter has seen that SpongeBob episode, and confirm the reference, although the synopsis involves SpongeBob being a waiter, and has nothing to do with murder.
AUSA Eugene Miller recrosses O’Sullivan. He gets O’Sullivan to testify that it’s not common for him to come across evidence of research on serial killers when he’s mining for data.
Pollock recrosses O’Sullivan yet again, asking if he deliberately looks for lookups of wikipedia pages when he executes search warrants on electronics. He confirms that no, he does not usually do that.
Government witness: Eric Stiverson
Eric Stiverson is a detective with UIPD. He joined the investigation when he got a call about the missing scholar from his supervisor.
Stiverston testifies that he went to the location where the last ping of Zhang’s cellphone was detected. He says he also went to the airport to check for rental cars in Zhang’s name. He also went to the bus terminal.
Stiverson says his team began searching through camera footage of Zhang, but they initially couldn’t tell which direction she went when she got off the bus at Springfield and Matthews.
Stiverson says he obtained Zhang’s laptop and eventually turned it over to the FBI. At the UIPD building, he says they had all their leads on a whiteboard. He says he interviewed Emily Hogan, a UI grad student who claimed Christensen tried to get her into his car.
The court is shown video of the interview Stiverson and FBI Special Agent Anthony Manganaro did with Christensen.
You can watch the full interview video here.
The clip starts playing at the point when Stiverson says, “Look, you know we didn’t call you up here to talk about video games and what you had for lunch that day.”
Christensen acknowledged they were talking to him, “Because the car I own was seen picking up the girl that’s missing.”
Stiverson testifies that at this point, he didn’t know Christensen had been looking up search updates for Zhang’s missing person case.
The conversation then steers toward the surveillance video. Christensen says “I’ve seen the car, but I didn’t see me.”
“You’ve seen what we’ve allowed you to see,” Stiverson tells him.
“Can I see the stuff you’re talking about, then?” Christensen asks.
“Do you think we brought you up here to watch videos?” Stiverson counters.
Stiverson testifies that Christensen was trembling and looking straight down at the table between him and Manganaro.
Christensen, in the video, reiterates that Zhang was speaking “very broken English”.
After the part on the video when Stiverson insists that Christensen is lying to them, he tells the court that his voice began to tremble, and his eyes were darting back and forth. By the end of the interview, he says Christensen’s skin, normally very pale, had appeared to break out in hives, with red blothces all over his face.
Stiverson says he checked local hospitals and jails for signs of Zhang, but did not find any evidence Zhang was alive after June 9th, 2017.
The defense did not cross-examine Stiverson.
Government witness: Bryan Schenkelberg
Bryan Schenkelberg is a Special Agent with the FBI.
He says he was partnered with Special Agent Andrew Huckstadt during much of the beginning parts of the investigation. They talked to several Saturn Astra owners, but found nothing of note.
He says he sent a visual of the Astra caught on surveillance video to his AV unit in Springfield to see if they could catch the license plate, but that was to no avail.
Schenkelberg also recounts how they identified Christensen’s Astra based on the damaged hubcap.
Once Christensen’s Astra was seized, he testifies that he was the photographer for the search of his apartment.
After that, he says he and Huckstadt went to talk to Terra Bullis. She cooperated, and agreed to wear a recording device during their second interview with her.
The agents also searched her phone and got a copy of her messages.
Schenkelberg talks about the second interview Christensen volunteered to go in to do. Schenkelberg and Michael Carter conducted that. Schenkelberg says the purpose was to not challenge anything Christensen said– just to get his side of the story.
Schenkelberg testifies about the ride-along they took Christensen on, with him trying to recall the route he supposedly drove Zhang on,.
Schenkelberg also confirmed no blood was recovered from the Astra, despite Christensen’s claims during the interview that he bled in the car.
The defense did not cross-examine Schenkelberg.
Government witness: December Melville
December Melville says she’s a Crime Scene Investigator with the Illinois State Police.
She says during the search of Christensen’s apartment on June 15th, they were looking for everything pertaining to Yingying Zhang, her personal belongings, and DNA evidence.
She says it took them five to six hours to process the apartment.
The court is now shown pictures of the exterior of Christensen’s apartment building, then pictures of the inside of it. There’s also a diagram of a floor plan.
Melville testifies that they used a spray compound (commonly known as luminol) that causes biological evidence to glow.
More pictures show the Christensens’ vacuum cleaner container was empty. The contents were found in the trash.
The government shows pictures of cleaning products on a table, gloves, and tools. An empty bottle of Drano is also inside the garbage can.
A knife was found on the utility room floor.
In the bedroom, there’s a baseball bat and black restraints. Melville says she didn’t find a gag, though.
Two twin mattresses are pushed together and covered by a single black sheet, and there’s a black pirate-looking flag hanging in the back.
Melville says CSI took swabs of the baseball bat, which indicated the potential for blood based on the luminol spray.
Prosecutors show the actual bat to the jury.
There are photographs of three stains on the mattresses. Melville says they swabbed each stain. The stain swabs were also shown in court.
Melville says they seized several items, including clothing, towels, keys, hair clippings, plastic gloves, men’s shoes, a copy of Christensen’s resume, and the baseball bat.
Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock cross-examines Melville. Melville testifies that there are several things that can make luminol light up, such as certain cleaning supplies.
For example, Melville says they tested the utility room and it turned out to be a false positive.
Pollock also questions their reasoning for singling out Brendt’s “American Psycho” DVD.
Government witness: Timothy LeMasters
Timothy LeMasters says he’s a Crime Scene Investigator for the Illinois State Police.
He testifies that he spent three hours searching Yingying Zhang’s apartment. Several photographs are shown of this.
Pollock cross-examines him, asking about the luminol on the bat. LeMasters agrees that anything detected technically has to go to a lab before it can be deemed “blood”.
Pollock makes that point that if someone only showers, there wouldn’t be prints on the edge of the bathtub.
Court recesses for the day.
Day 5, Tuesday: “Undercover cop” investigation; the FBI dissects the apartment
Judge Shadid briefly discusses having the U of I respond to the defense’s previous motion on their contempt allegation at 9 AM on Monday. Then the day’s first witness is called.
Government witness: John Clark
John Clark says he used to work in maintenance for Royse and Brinkmeyer apartments. The company owns Stonegate Village, which is where Christensen lived.
Clark confirms he got a maintenance request from Christensen on the afternoon of June 13th, 2017. “The grout has been peeling for quite some time and it’s getting a lot worse. There’s mold,” Christensen wrote.
Clark entered the apartment on June 15th, and went into the full bathroom. He testifies that the grout appeared to be in normal condition.
He says there was a little bit of mold, so he sprayed a fungicide on the walls, let it soak for 10 minutes, and then applied a fresh layer of caulk to the bathtub/shower.
The defense did not cross-examine Clark.
Government witness: Tom Geis
Tom Geis says he’s a Lieutenant in the UIPD’s detective bureau.
He details that his team obtained the search warrant for Christensen’s apartment, as well as a warrant to search his safety deposit box at Busey Bank.
Geis says that was searched on June 20th. Pictures shown to the court show it contained Christensen’s passport, apartment lease agreement, vehicle tax form, and vehicle registration information from Wisconsin, indicating Christensen’s status as the owner of a 2008 Saturn Astra.
The box also contained Brendt and Michelle’s marriage certificate, Brendt’s birth certificate, and his Selective Service System registration card.
Geis testifies that they also obtained a warrant to search Zhang’s apartment.
Geis says on June 26th, Christensen left him a voicemail asking about items seized from his apartment. He asked for his shoes back.
Geis testifies that he told Christensen that he may as well go buy a new pair of shoes, because it would be a while before he ever got them back.
Geis says throughout the next several months after Yingying Zhang disappeared, her family continued to search for her. He says he met with them about once a week to go over search updates.
Geis says throughout the first month and a half after Zhang went missing, his team worked 16 to 20 hour days. They never found any evidence of Zhang or her remains.
Pollock cross-examines Geis. She asks him about traffic patterns in Champaign-Urbana, and whether Christensen would have had enough time to head home from Schnucks on the morning of June 9th to shave his beard before going out driving.
Geis repeatedly answers “I don’t know,” to questions about how long it took Christensen to drive certain stretches of road that morning, and how long it would have taken him to shave his beard.
“So you don’t really know anything, do you?” Pollock eventually asks him.
“Objection,” someone from the government table said.
“Nothing further, your honor,” said Pollock, taking a seat.
Geis leaves the witness stand.
Government witness: Katherine Tenaglia
Katherine Tenaglia says she’s a Special Agent with the FBI.
She says she reported to UIPD for the aforementioned briefing on Zhang’s case that most other involved investigators attended.
AUSA James Nelson questions her about her interview with Emily Hogan. Tenaglia says Hogan called police after a man approached her claiming to be an undercover cop.
Tenaglia says she served as a liaison between the UIPD and the FBI during the investigation. She testifies that she was the one who took the pictures of Christensen’s Astra in the parking lot of his apartment complex.
She says she and another agent interviewed Hogan using a photo lineup. The lineup contained a picture of Christensen, along with five other photos of men that weren’t him.
Tenaglia says Hogan identified Christensen as the man who approached her.
Tenaglia then starts to testify about going to Christensen’s apartment to search it. They asked Christensen for an interview.
Tenaglia says Brendt asked Michelle what she thought he should do, and that Michelle told him he should go with them.
Tenaglia says she obtained consent to search their apartment. She then starts to talk about her communication with Michelle throughout the case.
She says Michelle called her a few hours after the search and interview, saying she recalled more information.
Tenaglia says Michelle went to the Champaign FBI office to provide more details, and met with Tenaglia in person a few times.
Tenaglia says she helped Michelle get a hotel room the night a search warrant was executed on the apartment. Tenaglis says throughout June, she exchanged 99 text messages with Michelle, 25 of which Tenaglia initiated.
Tenaglia says Michelle provided DNA swabs so investigators could test to see if her DNA matched anything in the apartment.
After the final search of Christensen’s apartment on June 30th, Tenaglia says she called Michelle to tell her Brendt had been arrested, and she brought Michelle a few items from the apartment.
Taseff cross-examines Tenaglia. He questions her about the legitimacy of the photo array presented to Emily Hogan.
Tenaglia confirms that the photo array wasn’t audio or video recorded, and that she wasn’t taking notes when it happened.
Taseff gets Tenaglia to confirm that Hogan never said the phrase “That’s the man I saw on June 9th.”
He also gets Tenaglia to admit that Hogan wasn’t positive, and couldn’t say for certain she picked the right picture. Taseff asked the question several times before the judge told him to move on.
Taseff sits down, and AUSA Nelson re-crosses Tenaglia. Tenaglia testifies that Hogan knew what the purpose of the photo array was.
Government witness: Emily Hogan
Emily Hogan says she works for an agriculture company now, but she was a grad student at the U of I in summer 2017.
AUSA Eugene Miller is asking her questions. Hogan says she was on her way to her department at the UI one morning. She parked her car on Stoughton street.
She says she was walking east when a car pulled in with its passenger side window down. She says the man driving got her attention.
Hogan says she couldn’t hear him at first, so she approached the car.
She says the man said, “I’m an undercover cop doing some work in the area. Could I ask you some questions?”
Hogan says she said “Yes.” She describes the man as having short dark hair, being clean-shaven, and wearing aviators.
She says he had a silver star on a leather square on a dog chain around his neck. She then says he asked her to get in the car. She says he refused.
At that point, Hogan says he seemed surprised, and then said “Well if you see anything suspicious, give us a call,”
Hogan says she walked away from the car at a brisk pace, then called the non-emergency number for police, because “He didn’t seem like a cop.”
Hogan testifies that she also posted a warning on Facebook about her encounter.
Miller brings up the photo array, which Hogan says she participated in. She says before it happened, she convinced herself that she wasn’t going to see the man she talked to. She says she didn’t believe she would pick the right person.
Hogan says she indeed did see the man who approached her.
“I was very shocked,” she says, adding that she felt sick when she saw his picture.
Assessing Hogan’s degree of certainty, Miller asked her how sure she was she picked the right picture.
“I wouldn’t have picked someone if I wasn’t sure,” Hogan says.
Miller also asked her what degree of certainty she had. Hogan says the agents had her pick out the photo multiple times, which made her question herself. She testifies that she was maybe 60 percent certain.
Taseff gets up to cross-examine Hogan. He has her tell the court that she spent an amount of time trying to choose between two different pictures.
Miller re-crosses Hogan. He has her reaffirm that she had no doubt about what she saw.
Taseff re-crosses again. Hogan reaffirms that she had no doubt the man was clean-shaven.
Government witness: Charles Hill
Charles Hill says he lives in Decatur. He admits that he has a prior felony conviction for aggravated battery, and that he’s on parole now.
Hill testifies that he was held in the Macon county jail during the summer of 2017.
Hill says in the Macon county jail, he was in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, only being allowed out for one hour. He says that’s because he was in protective custody.
Hill says Christnsen was being held in the same place, and was in the cell next to him for a little more than two months, which would have been around July and August 2017.
Hill says he and Christensen spoke every day, talking to each other through cell doors.
Hill says the two helped each other our: during Christensen’s hour outside solitary, he would make calls to Hill’s wife, and the two would buy each other commissary items.
Hill says he’s a diabetic, and therefore can only eat certain snacks. He says Christensen helped him buy the ones he couldn’t afford, and in turn, Hill’s wife would call and put money on Christensen’s account.
“I took a liking to him,” Hill told the court.
Then Hill says Christensen told him a story about how he picked up a girl while posing as an undercover police officer, but took a wrong turn, and then got out.
Taseff begins what’s about to become a harsh cross-examination.
Hill says he was originally sentenced to 42 months in prison in March 2018, but he got a reduced sentence for testifying against his co-defendant.
Hill says he was also convicted of felony theft in the past, and he’s been sentenced to prison several times.
Hill says he’s now facing a new charge of retail theft in Macon county. The charge is as recent as March 2019.
Hill says he was just released from prison in January 2019, saying he’s out on bond, and that he’s not violating his parole, despite his new charge in March.
Taseff has Hill explain how Hill spent his one hour each day outside his cell at the Macon county jail, and why he “look a liking” to Christensen.
Hill says Christensen is very book smart, but isn’t very street smart. Taseff has Hill admit that Christensen seemed “soft.”
Hill says in jail, people would try to pester Christensen, and Hill says he always took a stand, telling the others to “Leave him alone.”
Prompted by Taseff’s questioning, Hill reaffirms that he and Christensen bought items for each other.
Hill testifies that Christensen told him he had a police radio in his car. Taseff now shifts the conversation.
Taseff says he and Hill have actually met before. Taseff says Hill was being held in a prison in Centralia, when Taseff arrived with his investigator and Hill’s attorney for a meeting with Hill.
Taseff says they asked Hill if Christensen ever told him he had a police badge, but Hill can’t recall anything about that.
Hill says he doesn’t want to be in court right now, and he’s only here because he was subpoenaed. He says he never told the FBI anything about Christensen having a police badge.
Miller re-crosses Hill. Hill says, while in jail, he saw Christensen cry twice on the phone.
Hill says he occasionally saw Christensen go to see his attorney or psychologist/psychiatrist, and that he saw him on suicide watch before.
Hill says at one point, FBI Special Agent Anthony Manganaro came to talk to him. Hill reaffirms he’d rather not be testifying, but Miller continues to press him.
Hill says he passed a tip to a corrections officer about Christensen saying he picked up a girl then let her out. Hill says he told Manganaro that Christensen told him he had a police radio in his car.
Government witness: Michael Maguire
Michael Maguire says he’s a Special Agent with the FBI.
Maguire says he specializes in tracking computer hacking, and was part of the Evidence Response Team in 2017. He says he was called to assist with processing Christensen’s Astra.
The court is shown pictures of the Astra’s interior glowing after it was sprayed with luminol. Maguire testifies that the most extensive reaction to luminol occurred on the passenger-side door.
Maguire says he participated in the June 30, 2017 search warrant execution of Christensen’s apartment. He says about a dozen people searched, starting at around 7:30 that evening.
He says they had to bring in another team because they were exhausted, and the search was running long.
The court is shown pictures of boxes of garbage bags and an empty Drano bottle that were found in the apartment.
Maguire says a cadaver-sniffing dog alerted to the vanity in the full bathroom. Maguire also testifies about the use of an alternative light source and luminol to detect stains on the mattresses.
The court sees pictures of luminol applied to the wall behind the bed. Hand prints are visible, but they’re not visible in naked-eye pictures of the apartment without luminol applied.
Maguire testifies that the team took the trap from beneath the bathroom sink and the trap beneath the bathtub/shower. The trap is the curved piece of pipe that prevents smells from coming up the drain by holding water in the bend.
Pictures are shown of the entire vanity being removed, which Maguire confirms they did.
Pollock cross-examines him. She has him testify that the alternative light source can show many things, such as semen.
Pollock suggests that other fluids other than blood appeared to be on the mattress.
Maguire steps down, and the court recesses for a break.
Brief controversy about a picture of a dog
Before the jury is called back in, Pollock brings up an issue she has about an exhibit that the government just submitted to them.
It’s a picture of the cadaver-sniffing K9, which the next witness will testify about.
Pollock doesn’t want the picture to be admitted as evidence, panning it as a “glamour shot” with a flag in the background.
Judge Shadid says he didn’t realize the credibility of the dog’s ability was an issue, but Pollock insists it is.
The prosecution says the dog is dead, and they want to show a picture so the jury can have a visual reference for it.
Pollock insists it’s not like they would’ve been able to bring a live dog into the courtroom anyway.
Someone at the prosecution suggests that, well, it maybe could have been possible.
Shadid rules that he’ll hang onto the picture, and that they would see if the testimony without it could proceed.
Government witness: Jeremy Bruketta
Jeremy Bruketta says he’s a K9 handler at the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.
He says he’s worked with three dogs, and that he was working with “Sage 2.0” in June 2017.
AUSA Freres has Bruketta testify in detail about how Sage 2.0 was trained, and that the dog has successfully located and identified dead bodies before.
Bruketta says he went into Christensen’s apartment with Sage 2.0 when the search warrant was executed. They cleared the kitchen and bedrooms and moved onto the bathroom.
Bruketta says Sage 2.0 alerted to underneath the vanity. He also says Sage 2.0 backed off of the shower drain right away, being repulsed by something there.
Bruketta says Sage “went low”, and started scratching around the vanity. He also testifies that they never found any remains.
Pollock cross-examines Bruketta. She points out that the state of Illinois actually has no certification for cadaver-sniffing dogs.
She mentions that the dog would have been required to train for 16 hours a month. Bruketta affirms that they trained more than the minimum amount required.
Pollock says the dog only practiced cadaver scent training twice between 2015 to 2017.
Pollock insists that the bathroom is the room in which an investigator would be the most likely to find blood, but Bruketta disagrees, saying it could be found anywhere.
Pollock gets Bruketta to admit that Sage 2.0 did not alert to blood found on the underside of a piece of carpet below the bed. Bruketta explains that there’s a difference between detecting a scent in “open air” or an exposed area, versus underneath carpet.
Freres recrosses Bruketta. Bruketta clarifies that the dog alerted to the area underneath the sink, not inside it.
Bruketta also says Sage 2.0 has successfully found known cadavers before.
Pollock recrosses. She questions how the dog knew the scent was in the vanity. She and Bruketta agree that while wood is a porous substance (fluids can soak into it), painted wood may not be.
She brings this up to question the dog’s ability to detect anything through painted wood, which the vanity would have been, pertaining to her previous argument about the dog not detecting blood through carpet.
The picture of the dog was never shown.
Government witness: Douglas Seccombe
Douglas Seccombe says he’s a Special Agent with the FBI.
He says he’s based in Chicago, but he got a call from Mike Maguire, asking him to assist with the search warrant at Christensen’s apartment downstate.
Seccombe says he asked his team to meet at 4 AM to drive down to Champaign. They got there about 7 AM.
He testifies that they worked all day, finishing up around 5:30. He says they used luminol in the bathrooms, then concentrated on the bedrooms, and also used an alternative light source.
He says his team was looking for something that may have been cleaned up.
The court is now shown pictures of Christensen’s apartment. They see luminol fluorescence in several areas of carpet.
Seccombe says it appears somebody was using cleaning product, and thee imprints in the pictures indicate they stepped in it or set down a bottle of cleaner.
The court also sees a picture of leather and metal restraints in the bedroom.
Seccombe says they cut out several strips of the carpet beneath the bed. The underside of a strip that was against the baseboard looked like blood was on it.
That actual strip of carpet is shows to the jury. Seccombe says they use a compound called Phenolphthalein to test for the presence of blood.
He says the carpet tested positive. The jury now sees a piece of drywall cut from the wall behind the bed, and a piece of tack board the carpet was attached to.
Seccombe says his team gave the items to FBI’s Springfield office to be tested.
Pollock cross-examines him. Pointing out that many cleaning products can cause luminol to fluoresce, she starts to question Seccombe about what can happen when one cleans a carpet.
She asks him about the possibility of debris removal, but he doesn’t follow. She doesn’t appear to understand Seccombe isn’t understanding her questions.
“You’ve never cleaned a carpet?” she asks.
“No.” he replies. The courtroom laughs.
Pollock continues her questioning, also fighting back laughter.
Seccombe testifies that the patchy nature of the luminol’s fluorescence throughout the carpet indicated that someone tried to clean up specific areas. He says he figures the smarter option for someone in that situation would be to either rent one of those rug cleaning machines or hire a professional carpet cleaning service.
Seccombe says often, his team isn’t necessarily looking for blood or body fluids, but rather if someone cleaned up. He says they look for the lack of evidence just as often as they seek actual evidence.
Government witness: Courtney Corbett
Courtney Corbett says she’s a Special Agent with the FBI.
She is shown the same Government Exhibits as Seccombe was (the pictures of the interior of the apartment, with luminol), and she says she recognizes them.
Corbett testifies that they applied the luminol to several areas in the bathroom. She says the entire foot-and-a-half section of the wall above the tub was glowing.
She says they contacted the apartment complex’s maintenance department to confirm that mold cleaning and caulking was done.
Pollack cross-examines Corbett, and again points out that the luminol reacts with other substances besides blood.
Court recesses for the day.
Day 6, Wednesday: DNA evidence and Christensen’s girlfriend starts to testify
Court was not in session on Wednesday morning, as Judge Shadid was attending the Peoria county state’s attorney’s funeral. Court resumes at 1:30 that afternoon.
Government witness: Amanda Bakker
Amanda Bakker says she’s a Forensic Examiner at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
She says she’s handled about 700 cases and has testified in court 11 times.
The government asks the Court to tender her as an expert in Forensic Serology, and the judge agrees to do so.
Bakker says they can test for things like blood and semen at the lab. She explains how testing for that evidence works.
Bakker testifies that blood testing starts with a quick, highly sensitive “presumptive test” with phenolphthalein. The phenolphthalein is applied to a swab of a stain, and if it turns pink, the test is positive.
Bakker testifies that it’s also possible for other chemicals, such as detergents and oxidants, to cause positive reactions.
She says because of that reason, a more comprehensive test is performed. They put the stain swab on a hot plate, which is then analyzed under a microscope. It’s called the “Takayama Hemochromogen” test.
Bakker says in layman’s terms, this is called the “confirmatory test” to confirm the presence of blood.
Bakker then explains what DNA is, saying that 99% of everyone’s DNA is the same, and that it’s that 1% that differentiates everyone.
Bakker then explains how her lab extracts DNA evidence, explains alleles, and explains genetic sequencing.
Bakker then testifies about the “likelihood ratio”, which is the level of certainty examiners measure the presumed identity of one’s DNA against.
She says an ideal threshold for that ratio would be one trillion to one, which would indicate that in one trillion people, only one person shares that particular DNA sequence.
Bakker says that there are only 7 or 8 billion people on Earth.
“To get to 1 trillion people, you would need about 110 Earths,” she says.
Bakker says that in Yingying Zhang’s case, the likelihood ratio exceeded one trillion.
She says DNA evidence can be obtained even if a blood test is negative. She says DNA collected from a toothbrush in Zhang’s apartment served as an identifying DNA profile for her.
AUSA Eugene Miller shows the court a bag of swabs taken from Christensen’s apartment. Bakker says she recognizes them.
She says the three swabs were taken from Christensen’s mattress.
The first swab was tested to have the DNA of three people. She says the likelihood ratio that one of the three DNA profiles WASN’T Zhang’s is one in 44 sextillion.
“It’s 44 with 21 zeroes behind it,” she says.
Bakker says no blood was detected on the second swab, but it did test positive for DNA of three people. The likelihood ratio one of them wasn’t Zhang was one in 1.4 quintillion, which is one with 17 zeroes behind it.
Bakker says the third mattress swab was the same situation, but the ratio was only one in 3,000.
Bakker then testifies about a swab taken from the baseball bat. No blood was detected, but the likelihood the DNA on the bat didn’t include Zhang’s was one in 33 octillion.
Bakker says that’s “33 with 22 zeroes,”
Next Bakker was asked about the sample of bloody carpet. Bakker says only one person’s DNA was detected, and the likelihood that it wasn’t Zhang’s is one in 97 octillion– which is 97,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Bakker says the piece of drywall from behind the bed tested positive in the presumptive test, but not in the confirmatory test.
She says the likelihood ratio that Zhang’s DNA wasn’t one of the two people detected on it was one in 33 octillion.
On the baseboard, Bakker says blood was identified, but the DNA results were inconclusive.
Bakker says the DNA results for the tack strip were also inconclusive.
She says no blood was identified in the Astra, but DNA was found. However, it wasn’t conclusive.
She says no blood was detected in the bathroom. She says there was a sample that was preemptively positive for blood, but no DNA evidence was conclusive.
Bakker says no other blood was detected. She turned in her final report on the matter on November 20, 2017.
Pollock cross-examines her. She has Bakker explain that new technology has allowed examiners to separate blended samples of DNA (meaning, DNA of multiple people found in one swab).
Bakker testifies that they only need about one nano gram of DNA to get a sample, which is about one billionth of a sugar packet.
She says they only need about six cells to detect DNA, and that almost every item you can think of has DNA on it.
Pollock asks Bakker if she can determine the substance DNA came from, whether it was cells, blood, skin, etc.
Bakker says she cannot. So in this case, she can tell that the DNA was contributed by Zhang, but not which specific bodily material it came from.
Pollock points out that about two-thirds of the items Bakker received from Christensen’s apartment were not tested for DNA, and she asks why. She asks if Bakker was aware of the allegations against him.
Pollock says there were knives, box cutters, scissors, hammers, knitting needles, and other things that could be used as weapons that weren’t tested, and asks why.
“What about the knives?” she asks.
Bakker says she can’t test “500 items” for every case, or her lab would never get anything done.
She says her testing is driven by the questions investigators want answered.
Pollock has Bakker reaffirm that despite the sink and shower traps being taken, there was no evidence of Zhang found in the bathroom.
Bakker says that even if she has a bloodstain, she can’t say the DNA came from blood. She says it could have still come from cells, or another bodily material.
Following Pollock’s questioning, Bakker says they detected Zhang’s DNA on the bat found in Christensen’s apartment, but there was no evidence of blood.
AUSA Miller recrosses Bakker. She says they look for physical evidence on items before they test them for DNA.
The court is then shown pictures of the mattress. Miller has Bakker reiterate the certainty with which the DNA identified on the bloody carpet was Zhang’s (97 octillion).
Government witness: Terra Bullis, Part 1
AUSA Nelson says, “The United States calls Terra Bullis.”
Bullis walks in, maintaining an upright posture and looking straight ahead with her chin up.
Bullis says in 2017, she lived in Champaign, with roommates that all had an arrangement that everyone in the home had various types of relationships with each other, sexual and otherwise.
Bullis says those relationships were poly amorous. She says she participates in BDSM, and so did one of her housemates.
Bullis says she identifies as a submissive, with varying degrees of submission.
She explains that a “switch” is someone who can play different roles, meaning they can be both dominant and submissive.
Bullis testifies that her relationship with Christensen began in April 2017, when they started talking on OkCupid.
Nelson asks her if she can identify the defendant in the courtroom. She pauses, then points out Christensen sitting at the defense table.
During her testimony, Christensen sits back in his chair and looks down with his hands in his lap. For most of the trial, he’s appeared to either have been looking straight ahead, at the jury, at the witness, or down at his notepad to take notes or draw.
Not this time. He looks as though he may be wiping away a tear or two.
Bullis says she abided by a code of ethics in her house. She was allowed to date anyone she wanted, as long as they knew where she was and that she was on a date.
She says her first date with Christensen was at a cafe and a bookstore. There, she says Christensen told her he and his wife were in an open relationship.
She says she and Christensen participated in a BDSM “power exchange”. He was dominant and she was submissive.
Bullis said she spoke with his wife Michelle to make sure she consented to their relationship. She says Christensen told her he thought talking to his wife was a bit odd.
Bullis says there were two sides to her submissive role playing. She says she would do domestic tasks for him, such as cleaning.
She says Christensen didn’t like to clean the bathrooms, so she cleaned them and the kitchen.
Bullis says the BDSM carried over to the bedroom, where she would sometimes wear a collar.
She says they used the “stoplight system” to gauge their level of consent: “Green” means full consent, “Yellow” means the activity is approaching the edge of what one is comfortable with, and “Red” means stop.
Nelson asks her if she ever had to say “red”. She says she did once, and that Christensen did stop what he was doing.
She says after that, their interactions slowed down, saying Christensen seemed a bit dissatisfied with the circumstances.
She says when the two of them slept over, they always stayed at his place, because his bed wasn’t big enough.
Bullis says she and Michelle got along.
During this time in her life, Bullis says she wasn’t eating a lot or feeling physically well. She was taking anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, and sleep aids.
She says she was dealing with past trauma, as a victim of a previous incident.
Bullis says she saw Christensen abuse alcohol, and that he never indicated he wanted to quit drinking. She says she wished he’d quit.
She says there was only one time when he got seriously intoxicated.
“We were drinking rum, shot for shot,” she says.
She says a turning point in the relationship is when they were both in Christensen’s bed. Michelle walked into the bedroom, and Bullis says she said they should greet her.
Bullis says that was important because it was part of her code of ethics. Christensen didn’t respond, so Michelle drove Christensen home.
Bullis testifies that at least once before, she gave Christensen the choice between spending time with her and drinking.
She says he never became angry or violent when drinking, but he did become more talkative.
The court is shown pictures of Christensen’s FetLife profile. His username is “Akuma689”.
Nelson asks Bullis if she’s familiar with what that means, and she says “Akuma” is Japanese for a fire demon, and in some sects of Japanese Christianity, it refers to Satan.
Bullis says FetLife is supposed to be always consensual. She says it’s not a place to discuss or plan activities that would be dangerous or criminal.
Results of Christensen’s “BDSM” test are shown to the court. They show he’s 98% dominant, with a high percentage of “sadist”, “degradation”, and “hunter”.
Bullis describes her submissiveness, saying “I was almost pet-like,” and explaining that’s why Christensen called her “bunny” or “kitten”.
She says Christensen talked to her about “American Psycho” and told her he was attracted to the main character.
She says he talked with her about wanting to find out how far he could push boundaries.
The court is now shown text messages between the two.
“I would never do anything so dumb I would go to jail, though that would be very very interesting,” he texted her.
“[Good], bad, revered, infamous. I don’t care,” he spoke of how he’d like to be remembered.
Bullis says she felt conflicted, because she was attached to him emotionally, but she notes that those texts were not from someone who she’d prefer to be emotionally attached to.
Bullis says Christensen told her he thought he could kill someone and get away with it, that it could possibly be easy, and that no one would know about it.
She says once, while at a store, he memorized someone’s address that he saw, then later went to that location. She says he ended up leaving without doing anything.
Nelson asks her about her first date. “It was a normal date,” she says, adding that it was also “whimsical”.
She says Christensen seemed flirtatious, courteous, and kind.
The focus is shifted back to their text message conversations. Bullis reaffirms that she was quite attached to him, but things gradually became less and less lighthearted.
A text from Bullis to Christensen on the morning of June 9, 2017 is shown. At four-something in the morning, she tells him she had a person over that night to sleep with them.
She says her message was despite the fact they’d both already consented to sleeping with other partners, adding that she figured he should know.
“No worries,” he texted back, with a kissy-face emoji.
Bullis then texted “I don’t usually do the casual sex thing,”
“You don’t do the anything casual thing,” Christensen responded.
Bullis says she was first interviewed by the FBI on her front porch on June 15, 2017. She says the FBI told her her boyfriend could be involved in the Zhang case.
Nelson asked Bullis why she agreed to secretly record her conversations with him for the FBI. She says she was emotionally attached to Christensen, and wanted to know if he did it or not.
Bullis says when she got frightened while recording conversations, she would just act more submissive. She says she hid the device in her bra.
NOTE: The following remainder of this day’s notes were taken by Courtney Bunting, who watched from the video feed at the Federal courthouse in Urbana. Notes have minor edits to remove overlap.
Bullis confirms that Christensen wanted to clear his name, and he wanted to stop the investigation.
She mentions that Christensen said he was interested in experiencing things “outside” the bounds of what typical people experience. She said his eyes got bigger, his voice sped up, and he seemed “amused” when discussing it.
Since Bullis and Christensen were in a dominant/submissive relationship, she says she kept asking questions and was “diminutive” and unclear about answers because she didn’t want to compromise her safety by knowing too much.
At one point, Christensen told her he had a conversation with his wife about violence, testing limits, and serial killer nature. Bullis responded, “That doesn’t sound too good.”
Bullis is questioned about Christensen mentioning a bloody baseball bat in his apartment. Christensen told Bullis in a recording that it was Bullis’ blood.
On the stand, Bullis said that would not be possible, because she has a platelet disorder and it takes forever for her to stop bleeding. She says she would have known if it had been her own blood.
She’s asked why didn’t didn’t tell Christensen that she knew it wasn’t her blood, and she says she was scared and wanted to know why Christensen was lying.
The court is shown dialogue between Bullis and Christensen about explaining the missing scholar situation.
“It’s not that I require you to explain everything,” said Bullis, “It would just make me feel better eventually.”
“It’s best for you if I don’t [explain],” Christensen told her.
Nelson asks Bullis, “Did [Christensen] say it would be bad for him and Yingying if you knew more?”
“Yes,” says Bullis.
“Did he say why?” asks Nelson.
“To protect me,” says Bullis.
Bullis explains that she was torn in the situation because of her concern for Zhang, Christensen, and Michelle.
“When I care about someone, I truly care about them,” Bullis says, “But I also cared about this missing person, and it’s painful.”
Bullis mentions that Christensen’s demeanor was frustrated and amused when he talked about getting his belongings back from the FBI.
Bullis is asked about Christensen saying she was “grounded”. She explains that someone in her house wouldn’t allow Christensen inside.
In a recording, Christensen says, “Michelle sometimes does this.” Bullis clarifies this was referring to Michelle sending back-to-back texts to Christensen.
When questioned further about Michelle, Bullis gets choked up and says she can’t answer a question because she’s too emotional.
Christensen is heard in a recording saying that drinking takes him to a “sad, lonely place.” Bullis says she wants to be there for him when he goes there.
“When I drink too much, my mental faculties become lower,” Christensen says.
He calls drinking an escape. Bullis says Christensen drank when he had nothing else to fill time with.
She’s asked what he would want to escape from. She says he was needing to find a full-time job and having trouble with his relationship with his wife.
In another recording, you can hear Bullis asking Christensen, “Can’t we talk about other things either?” (aside from drinking).
She says, “I do love you a lot. I’m sorry (Michelle’s) being frustrating.”
Christensen says he’s unable to speak with his wife about some of the things he was speaking about.”
The court is then shown text messages between Christensen and Bullis.
TB: “What’s going on? I promise I will always listen.”Text messages between Bullis and Christensen
BC: “I was the one who picked that girl up. I dropped her off shortly after. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
The texts go on to mention that investigators haven’t found Zhang, and if they get desperate, he was nervous because he was the last to see her.
TB: “Why did you pick her up?”Text messages between Bullis and Christensen
BC: “She looked like she needed help, and she did. She was late for something.”
Christensen goes on to mention that he will probably lose his life if this goes wrong. He says this is probably the biggest case in Illinois. He mentions how it’s very political and that it’s national news.
TB: “You can’t be sent to jail with no evidence.”Texts between Bullis and Christensen
BC: “They’re putting posters of my car everywhere. I won’t be able to sell it.”
TB: “If they actually thought you did it, wouldn’t they have to find something?”
The texts show Christensen mentioning that Michelle used to think he did it.
Bullis says she wouldn’t sleep in the same bed with him for a while, but she started to sleep in the same bed as him for the past few days.
“I’m so sorry,” Bullis says in response.
Bullis says she was conflicted while having that conversation.
Court recesses for the day.
Day 7, Thursday: Bullis describes recording conversations
It’s 9 AM, and it’s already hot in the courtroom, because the A/C isn’t working. The judge says there’s some sort of an issue with the cooling system.
“People are addressing it,” he says.
The legal teams are in a tiff about some sort of witness statements. They discuss, then AUSA Nelson calls Bullis back to the stand.
Terra Bullis testimony, Part 2
The court is shown text messages between Bullis and Christensen on June 23rd. Christensen said there are some things his wife won’t let him speak about openly. Bullis said he can talk to her about them.
On June 27th, a recorded conversation between Bullis and Christensen shows Brendt is stressed out about a news report about the investigation.
He says the car is a false lead, and calls the digital data the FBI collected a “pittance” to them.
He complains that they still have his shoes, and suggests that there’s a “real culprit” out there.
Bullis testifies that Christensen brought up the investigation quite a bit during the second half of June.
‘I’m sure in the back of their minds they’re still hoping it’s me because that’s easy for them,” he says to Bullis, “It’s political.”
Bullis says she didn’t know what he meant by “political”.
Christensen tells her he had two shots to drink on June 9th, but in hindsight wishes he would’ve gotten drunk, “Because, you know, then I wouldn’t have uh…yeah…”
Bullis says if the investigators know about the “poly thing”, they could try to turn them against each other.
Christensen then speaks to Bullis about the search of his apartment. “They didn’t find jack s***,” he says, “There’s nothing to find there.”
“As far as I know, I can say whatever the hell I want to anyone,” he says, claiming he’s a scapegoat.
Bullis suggested to him she had Stockholm Syndrome, trying to encourage him to talk to her, implying she would be okay with it if he was involved.
“The only reason this ever got any attention,” Christensen told her, “Is because of like, specific details like that.” He referred to the fact that Zhang had an appointment.
The defense objects to having Bullis continue to explain what the court was already hearing on the audio. The government says she’s the only person who was there besides the defendant, and that they’re trying to add context.
Judge Shadid asks– isn’t the defense trying to call into question whether Christensen was lying or embellishing, or not? Eventually he rules that the government questioning is getting a little repetitive, but he allows Nelson to proceed.
Bullis says during this conversation, Christensen’s demeanor was matter-of-fact. A recorded conversation shows Christensen saying the amount of attention a case gets depends on who the victim is.
He tells Bullis about serial killers that killed prostitutes at truck stops, explaining that those types of people aren’t missed.
Bullis testifies that his eyes got wider, and he started speaking faster when the topic of serial killers was brought up.
Nelson asks Bullis to again explain what they’ve been talking about. Defense attorney Robert Tucker objects, saying it’s repetitive again. Shadid sides with Tucker.
Bullis says she was frightened by these conversations, so she pretended she was interested. She says she didn’t want the conversation to continue, but she felt an “ethical obligation” to allow it to continue because of the suspicions about Christensen.
“I’m still kind of paranoid they’re listening to me,” he’s recorded telling her. At this point, Bullis says she felt “incredibly nervous” to be recording the conversations.
As Bullis continues to press Christensen for more information about what he may be involved in, he tells her, “The unfortunate thing about all of this is that there’s one way, the number one way people get caught with any crime [is telling someone else they did it].”
Christensen says that if he is hypothetically involved in anything, and he told her about it, she’d have information, and if the FBI came knocking and she didn’t spill the beans, it’d be a felony. He says she could become an accomplice.
“I care about you too much to ever try and put you in that kind of situation,” he tells Bullis.
After a short recess, the judge tells the government to try to keep Bullis from repeating the conversations the court is already hearing in the clips.
Shadid also says the cooling system in the courtroom has been fixed, and that it’s now getting cooler.
“I presume by the time we break for lunch, it’ll be ice cold, probably,” he says with a smile.
The recording continues playing. Bullis asks Christensen, what if she did something, and told him? Would he tell the authorities about it?
Christensen says he’d probably tell, because “I don’t want to go to jail for 30 years.”
Nelson asks Bullis what she was thinking during this conversation.
“I was terrified,” Bullis testifies, “I was walking a very thin line…”
Now Nelson moves on to the subject of the recording at the walk for Zhang. Christensen texts Bullis, telling her to meet at her place so they could take the bus to the walk.
Then Christensen suggests they meet at Krannert.
“I am going to this no matter what. I’d love it if you were there with me,” he texts her.
Bullis indicated that she wasn’t a big fan of going.
“The dom in me says you do what I want,” Christensen texts her, referring to their BDSM roles.
Bullis asks why he wants to go. “Have you not seen enough of the posters and the news articles?” she texts him.
After agreeing to go, Bullis testifies that she went to the FBI office to get the recording device back, then went back home, then took a bus to the Krannert Center.
She says she took an alternative bus route so she didn’t run into Christensen on the bus.
The court is then shown pictures of Bullis and Christensen sitting at the top of the stairs at Krannert.
Bullis says they sat down, and Christensen took her collar out of her backpack. She says she told him it wouldn’t be appropriate to wear it to a somber event like the vigil. She says he didn’t make her wear it.
Bullis testifies that he seemed to be smiling too much for the nature of the event. She says he had a water bottle with him that had alcohol in it, and that it was maybe ⅕ full– about four inches of liquid.
Bullis says Christensen told her that when he took a drink, she should also take a drink. Then she says he told her the crowd was there for him.
At that point, Bullis says she went inside to turn on the recording device, realizing this conversation would be important. She says she told him she was going to the bathroom.
Bullis says Christensen added water to the bottle. The jury and legal teams put their headphones on, and this clip is now played in the courtroom.
On tape, Bullis asks Christensen if him going to the walk is some sort of adrenaline junkie thing. In court, she answers Nelson’s questions about what was actually said during some unintelligible parts of the conversation.
In the recording, the two refer to pamphlets about the event as “souvenirs”.
Bullis says at one point, Christensen took her hand and traced the number 13 in her palm.
“I felt like I was being studied and observed,” she testifies.
Bullis says after that, she went to the bathroom to turn off the recording device because the concert was starting son, and she wanted to conserve the battery life.
She says while she was in the bathroom, she emailed the FBI, then immediately deleted the emails.
Bullis says when she came out, she sat on a bench with Christensen. She says he looked through her phone, auditing the text messages and phone calls.
She testifies he then opened up the notepad application on her phone, and wrote four lines of text, deleting each one successively:
“It was me.Bullis’s testimony on what Christensen typed in her phone’s notepad application
She was number 13.
Bullis says he seemed nervous at this point.
She says she became unnerved by his clapping at the end of the concert. In court, she demonstrates the way people would normally applaud for music, and then demonstrates the way she says he clapped.
Bullis describes his clapping as long, staccato, hard claps, that were separated by pauses.
Bullis says during the concert, Christensen gestured to one specific woman, explaining to her that she would be a good target, and that they would follow her after the concert. She says that never actually happened.
Bullis says she texted one of her housemates, telling them to text her telling her she couldn’t bring Christensen inside the house.
Bullis says Christensen told her it was necessary to make victims disappear. He then describes how Yingying Zhang fought him.
On the recording, Christensen tells her he lives a double life. He says some of the aforementioned details from the first time this recording was played, such as his claim that Zhang was the only person who has ever produced evidence leading back to him.
Bullis testifies that at this point, she was focused on maintaining the conversation, keeping the microphone close to him, and staying on the sidewalk.
Nelson asks if Christensen seemed intoxicated, and Bullis says he didn’t.
On the recording, Christensen details what he says he did to Zhang, splitting her head open with a baseball bat.
Bullis says he was laughing when he told her he cut Zhang’s head off, also complaining about how hard it was to kill her.
After that, “No…uh-uh…none of this f****n zombie s***,” Christensen says with a laugh.
Christensen also describes “doing stuff” to Zhang of a sexual nature, but adding that he was bored with it.
Christensen abruptly switches the conversation to the fact he’s hungry, and wants to find something to eat.
Bullis asks him, “Is 13 really a big number?”, referring to the number of people he claims to have killed.
“It’s bigger than Jeffrey Dahmer,” he says, “Bigger than John Wayne Gacy. I have caught the nation’s attention, apparently.”
Nelson asks Bullis what the thumping noise in the recording is. Bullis says it’s her heartbeat.
On the recording, Christensen says he once drunkenly rambled to Michelle about some of his deeds, and that she almost divorced him after he told her.
Christensen refers to Zhang, saying she’s gone forever.
“I can do this within hours,” he says, “It’s a weird thing to be really good at, but it’s true.”
In court, Bullis describes his speaking as “clinical”.
Nelson then points out that in the car ride that followed the conversation, Michelle asked if Brendt was drunk, and Bullis said he was.
Bullis says she took that to mean that he’d been drinking, but wasn’t “drunk” in the literal sense.
Bullis says she called the FBI when she got home, and says she felt devastated, and cried. She says she turned the recordings over to Special Agent Huckstadt.
Bullis says Christensen tried to contact her numerous times after he was arrested, saying she had an entire phone screen full of missed calls. She says Michelle also tried to contact her.
Bullis says she and Christensen weren’t sexually active since before June 9, 2017. She says he was focused on developments of the investigation, and that he did most of the talking between the two of them.
Bullis says the publicity from the case deeply affected her. She says she was no longer able to work in a public environment, that she sought mental health treatment, and asked the FBI for financial help after Christensen was arrested.
Bullis says she got seven or eight thousand dollars from the FBI, mostly in reimbursements for things.
“How does it feel to be testifying against him today?” Nelson asks her.
“Terrifying,” Bullis says.
“So why are you doing it?” Nelson asks.
“Because it’s necessary,” she says.
Nelson has no further questions, and court is in recess for lunch.
After lunch, Tucker cross-examines Bullis. He first questions her assessment on whether Christensen appeared to be drunk on June 29th, 2017.
Every time Nelson asked her during his direct examination, she said he wasn’t drunk. Bullis testifies she could only judge that based on comparing how intoxicated he seemed then to how intoxicated he’d been in the past.
Tucker points out that when Michelle asked Bullis if Christensen was drunk that night, she said he was. Bullis says she knew he had been drinking before the walk, but she didn’t know how much.
“You knew that he had a severe problem with alcohol, didn’t you?” Tucker asks her.
Tucker points out that Bullis drank with Christensen during the walk, and accuses her of having wanted to keep him drinking.
Tucker points out that in the past, Bullis told Christensen he would have to choose between drinking and spending time with her.
Following Tucker’s questioning, Bullis says she reached out to Brendt first on OkCupid. The court is shown Christensen’s OkCupid profile, pointing out that it doesn’t say anything about BDSM.
In his bio, Christensen described himself as “pretty chill and easy going.”
The court is shown chat messages on OkCupid between the two.
“So what exactly does pansexual + open relationship mean?” Christensen asks Bullis.
Tucker points out that Bullis described a fantasy of a pagan sex ritual to him. Tucker says that from the very beginning, “You injected the idea of fantasy and sex.”
After a pause, Bullis testifies, “I would say I introduced it.”
Tucker points out that Bullis identifies as a “switch”, and can play various roles. He gets her to admit that the collar was hers, and that it was originally her idea.
Bullis says she introduced Christensen to the ideas and constructs of BDSM, adding that she had more experience than he did.
She says the two of them went to one public meetup for people who identify as “kinky”. She says it was just a social gathering, and that they only went once.
Bullis says she had no idea Christensen had been going to counseling. She says she’s the one who originally told Christensen about FetLife.
Messages between the two are shown to the court. Bullis calls flogging “beautiful,” and says that Christensen was unfamiliar with it. She says she showed him a demonstration video about it.
Bullis says she was excited when Christensen bought BDSM equipment.
In the messages, Christensen tells her he’s “aware of our inexperience” and doesn’t want to make mistakes in practicing BDSM.
Tucker has Bullis testify that they went over a couple videos that were instructional. Bullis says they were demonstrations of specific artistic practices of BDSM.
Bullis says she wasn’t made aware of Christensen’s struggles with mental health until later in the relationship.
She says that after the time when Michelle walked into the bedroom (when she and Christensen were both there) and he declined to greet her, Bullis became more aware of his drinking problems.
“There was only one time that I noticed he drank quite a bit,” Bullis says.
Tucker asks Bullis about Christensen’s kidnapping fantasy, pointing out that his conversation about it with another user on FetLife was still based on consent.
Bullis says Christensen was always “substantially” supportive of her throughout their relationship, and that he often comforted her.
Tucker accuses Bullis of having tried to keep him talking to he would implicate himself in the recorded conversations. Bullis says that’s not true.
Bullis says Christensen was financially dependent on Michelle while he was in school. She says she requested that he check with Michelle before they started experimenting together.
Bullis says she never heard Christensen express that he wasn’t a fan of his open marriage situation.
She says she called FBI agents before he came over to her house to talk to her.
Bullis says Christensen wasn’t drunk to the point of not being able to function.
Tucker insists Bullis knew Yingying Zhang was last seen getting into his car, and that the FBI searched the apartment and car, and had the bat.
Tucker refers to a point in the recording during the walk when Christensen says “I’ve been perfect.”
“You knew right then and there that it was nonsense,” Tucker says.
Bullis says she wasn’t looking for anything to make sense, and that she was just trying to record a conversation.
Tucker says Bullis was getting money from the FBI. Bullis says she was paid for lost wages, because she had to give up her job due to the nature of the investigation.
Tucker questions her claim that she wasn’t trying to steer the conversation anywhere in particular. Bullis says she kept talking to him because she was scared.
She says she was struggling with a mixture of personal emotions and ethical obligations.
Tucker again presses Bullis on her drinking at the vigil.
“If I would have not consented to do so,” she says, “I was concerned he would interpret that in a way [that would make it impossible to communicate with Christensen].”
Tucker points out that Bullis had been getting psychiatric treatment before she met Christensen.
Tucker’s cross-examination is plagued by numerous objections from the government.
Bullis says she doesn’t remember if, at the time, she knew Michelle was gone for the weekend of June 9th-12th. She says she and Brendt did discuss issues openly with each other.
NOTE: The following remainder of this day’s notes were taken by Courtney Bunting, who watched from the video feed at the Federal courthouse in Urbana. Notes have minor edits to remove overlap.
Tucker asks if Bullis knew Christensen was “hurt” that Michelle spent nights with Ryan. Bullis says she wasn’t aware.
Tucker asks if Bullis knew Brendt was having struggles and if she had sent him a message about it. He asks if she “had” to send him a graphic message describing she slept with another man on June 8, 2017.
Bullis replies, “I didn’t have to. I chose to.”
Tucker asks,”Do you recall texting Christensen: “Happy birthday! Are you hungover at all?”
Bullis replies, “Yes, I did.I was checking to see if he was alright.”
Tucker presses her for more information, asking if her text had anything to do with the fact that Christensen was walking around drinking a bottle of rum at the vigil for Yingying.
Bullis says the rum was mixed with “copious” amounts of water. Tucker asks if she knew how much water. She responds that she did because she drank it too.
To Bullis’s text checking on him, Christensen replied, “No worries, Bunny.”
Tucker presses Bullis further, asking if she did anything to encourage Christensen to stop drinking. She says she did not.
Bullis says she drank at the vigil because she was afraid it would look “suspicious” if she did not.
Tucker asks her if Christensen ever said, while drunk, that he’d hurt a woman. She says no.
She’s asked if she ever expressed to Christensen a fantasy about choking someone. She says no.
She’s asked if Christensen ever mentioned cutting someone’s head off or beating them with a baseball bat. She says no.
Nelson recrosses Bullis.
“You hadn’t drank with him since early May,” Nelson tells her, “Since Michelle laid down the law that you shouldn’t be drinking with him?”
“I had not,” she says.
Bullis is questioned about the conversation about what he said he did to Zhang.
“I choked her for what must have been 10 minutes,” he says on the recording, describing hitting her head with a bat and splitting her head open.
Government witness: Greg Catey
Greg Catey says he’s a Special Agent with the FBI. He says he specializes in cellular call records.
Catey says he has more than 16 years of experience, and he currently works out of the Springfield office. Judge Shadid agrees he can be considered an expert in the field.
Catey is questioned about his ability to determine which cell phone towers calls and texts “ping” off of.
He describes the time he started working with the University of Illinois police on this missing person case and what kind of research he did to verify that the placement of the cell phone towers at the time of his investigation was the same as the placement at the time that Yingying was last seen.
This indicates that his research at the time he started working on the case is valid.
Catey shows a coverage map and explains how he uses those maps to determine where cell phones and texts are sent from. Catey indicates that he tracked Zhang and Christensen’s cell phone usage on June 9, 2017.
He explains that around 2 pm, there is a lag on Christensen’s phone before he sends another text or phone call. For example, before about 11:48 a.m. Christensen was sending and receiving text messages and responding “rapidly”.
However, between 11:48 am and 3:30 pm, he never sent any outgoing texts or made any phone calls.
On Zhang’s phone records, Catey indicates that she was last shown sending an outgoing text around 1:42 that afternoon. Catey says he drove around to make sense of the cell phone towers Yingying’s texts “pinged” off of.
He says at 2:28, her phone’s activity was terminated. There was a text sent to the network and headed to her phone, but it didn’t make it there. Catey explains that this means the phone was either powered off, crushed, or out of the service area.
The defense cross-examines Catey. They ask if he knows how Zhang’s phone was disabled. He says no. They further ask if her phone was ever recovered. He also says no.
Government witness: Andrew Huckstadt, Part 3
The government calls Andrew Huckstadt again.
They ask him if he knows what the name “Yingying” stands for.
The defense questions the relevance, but the judge upholds it. Huckstadt says that name means “shining brightly” and “smart”.
Huckstadt is shown a photograph of a bank statement from Christensen. He indicates the relevant expenses on the bank statement by drawing a line to them.
He is shown a Walmart purchase made on June 11, and he draws a line to the relevant purchases. A video clip is played, showing someone who appears to be Christensen with no beard at Walmart.
They go on to discuss Christensen’s enrollment in a University of Illinois course called Sociology of Deviance. They ask if Huckstadt subpoenaed information about that course. He says yes. He confirms it was an internet course.
Huckstadt says the professor was interviewed. They ask Huckstadt if “serial killers” were mentioned in the syllabus of the course. He says no, only that the word “serial” was mentioned in a name of a podcast, but that’s all.
The prosecution moves on to Christensen’s Reddit account. He says Christensen’s account name was “bacbac”. The witness is asked if he prepared a summary of Christensen’s Reddit account. He says yes.
After Christensen was arrested, there was a recorded conversation between Michelle and Brendt (in jail) about his Reddit account. Michelle asks him what his password is and he tries to help her think of it without saying it. She informs him that comments made with his Reddit account still show up, even if his account was deleted.
Christensen asks her to delete any comments that look “stupid”. He asks if “they’ve” figured out his Reddit account yet. Michelle says that under one comment from him, someone commented, saying it may have been his account.
Huckstadt says that Christensen commented under a post by the University of Illinois Police Department indicating that there was new information going around about the suspect riding around pretending to be a cop.
Under this post, Christensen commented,”That’s very Ted Bundy-esque… scary.” That refers to one of the ways convicted serial killer Ted Bundy used to kill women: by luring victims by pretending to be authority figures, including a police officer.
The government asks if he knows why Christensen asked his wife to delete his Reddit page. He replies no, and says that Christensen just said to delete anything “dumb.”
In one recording of a conversation between Michelle and Brendt, he tells Michelle to not say anything to anyone other than “our” lawyers. He also told her to tell Bullis that he’s innocent and not to talk to anyone.
Once, Christensen can be heard asking,”Did you get a hold of Bunny?”
Michelle responds,”I texted her.” and he says,”I just hope she’s okay.”
He’s also heard saying,”I know she wouldn’t abandon me,” and, “I know she wouldn’t do anything against me.”
The defense cross-examines Huckstadt. They ask about textbook Christensen used for the “Sociology of Deviance” course.
“How did you have time to read the book?”
“I didn’t,” Huckstadt says. He goes on to explain that he only read the portion that was used as evidence.
They go on to ask if the book mentions anything like murder or death. He says he doesn’t know. They indicate those are terms to describe criminals. They ask Huckstadt if he considers serial killers to be criminals. He says yes.
Judge Shadid asks the attorneys if they anticipate resting their cases on Friday, June 21. They say yes. He indicates they will start again at 8:45 the following morning, and says closing arguments should be expected Monday, June 24.
Day 8, Friday: Christensen’s ex-wife reluctantly testifies
The day begins with the defense arguing for a new set of motions: One for a mistrial (again), one for Christensen’s acquittal, and one to ask for limiting jury instructions.
Tucker argues that the evidence against Christensen isn’t strong enough, citing the government’s presentation of his reading history on Wikipedia, and saying the indictment is fundamentally flawed, because it rests on his phone being considered an “instrument of interstate commerce”, and arguing that the phone wasn’t used during the commission of the crime.
AUSA Freres counters, saying the evidence is “extraordinarily strong”, and that the phone was used extensively in planning the crime.
The defense argues, “There’s no showing whatsoever the government can make…” the decision facilitated from the phone, and arguing that it should be stricken from the indictment.
They say a new indictment is in order, and therefore, a new trial.
The judge denies their motion for a mistrial, and denies the motion for Christensen’s acquittal. Called a “Rule 29” motion, it’s common for the defense to make that, and common for it to be denied.
However, Shadid does grant their motion for limiting jury instructions, which concerns the “12 other victims” issue the defense has previously complained about, as far as it relates to Christensen’s state of mind at the time he said that.
AUSA Eugene Miller says the government rests their case.
Defense witness #1: Anthony Manganaro
Special Agent Anthony Manganaro is called by the defense. As mentioned before, he’s been sitting with the AUSA team throughout the trial to assist the government’s case.
George Taseff has Manganaro confirm he was present for Charles Hill’s testimony.
Manganaro says he went to the Macon County Sheriff’s Office because of a tip passed up the chain from a corrections officer there. He says two other officers accompanied him.
Manganaro says he ate with Hill in a room in the detention office. He says he can’t remember if he took notes during the meeting, or not.
Taseff asks Manganaro is Hill told him that Christensen told Hill he had a police radio in his car.
Manganaro says there was no mention of a walkie-talkie.
Taseff asks if Hill referenced zip ties or hand restraints. Manganaro says no. He says if Hill said anything about that, it would have been noteworthy.
AUSA Eugene Miller cross-examines Manganaro.
Manganaro says his report memorialized the fact that Christensen presented a badge and identified himself as a police officer, according to what Hill says Brendt told him in jail.
He says Hill disclosed the “bare minimum” he needed to, and that Hill didn’t initially want to talk to him.
Manganaro says additional information was disclosed during Hill’s interview with an FBI agent to prepare for the trial.
Taseff objects, and calls for the attorneys to talk privately at sidebar.
Miller resumes questioning Manganaro, and has him confirm that Hill told FBI agents about Christensen’s alleged police badge twice.
Tasess recrosses Manganaro. Manganaro says he wasn’t actually part of the interview the FBI did to prepare Hill to testify.
He says Hill would have been out of jail at that point.
Defense witness #2: Alan Profancik
Alan Profancik says he a private legal PI employed with Kevin McClain Investigations. He says his jobs include locating and interviewing witnesses for federal public defenders, reviewing discovery, and more.
Profancik says he accompanied Taseff to the state prison in Centralia to talk to Hill. He says Hill’s attorney was also there.
Profancik says his job was to witness and document Hill’s interview. He says Hill’s attorney met with him privately before Taseff and Profancik went in.
Profancik says Hill was asked about Christensen having a police officer’s badge. Profancik says Hill told them that was the first he’d heard about that.
AUSA Miller cross-examines Profancik.
Miller has Profancik confirm he’s not a law enforcement officer, and that a lot of the work he does is for the federal public defender’s office.
He has Profancik confirm that the people he interviews have no obligation to tell him the truth.
“Are you familiar with the phrase, ‘Snitches get Stitches?’” Miller asks him. Profancik says he is.
Miller points out that Hill was planning to testify against his co-defendant, which is why he was in protective custody in Macon county.
Profancik confirms Hill understood Profancik was representing Christensen. Miller asks if Hill ended up snitching on Christensen.
Profancik says the purpose of his interview with Hill was to find out what he told the FBI about Christensen. He says he’s not aware if his reports were turned over to the legal teams.
Taseff recrosses Profancik. He has Profancik confirm again that Hill’s attorney briefed him on the purpose of their visit to Centralia that day.
Defense witness #3: Michelle Zortman
The defense calls Michelle Zortman, formerly Michelle Christensen. Brendt looks back and watches her walk in.
Zortman is sworn in. Elisabeth Pollock is asking her questions.
Zortman says she now lives out of state. She says she and Brendt went to high school together, and both worked as cashiers at Kmart. She says they started dating in 2008, when they would’ve been 19 or 20 years old.
Zortman says in June 2008, Brendt worked for a roofing company, when a board broke beneath his feet and he fell.
The doctor called it the “Super Bowl of wrist injuries,” she says.
Zortman says they both moved to Madison for school, and she went there because she was banking on the relationship being successful. They lived separately, but spent most of their time at her place. They eventually moved in together.
Zortman says they spent all their time together, mostly watching TV and playing video games.
Zortman says they got married in March 2013. They had a simple wedding: she says they were married by a lawyer in a hotel.
She says their parents were there and they each had two friends present. She believes she was wearing a green sweater and jeans.
Zortman says during that time in their life, they always traveled together, and texted a lot.
She says they moved to Champaign in 2013 so Brendt could go to grad school at the U of I. She says she got a degree in accounting from Parkland College, and got a job in loan operations at Busey Bank.
Zortman says they had virtually no social life, opting instead to play video games and watch TV most of the time. She says she’s generally a private person:
Pollock: “Are you a fan of being in that chair right now?”Courtroom exchange between Pollock and Zortman.
Pollock: ‘Do you wish you were not there?”
Zortman: “Very much.”
Zortman says Brendt did most of the cleaning, and she cooked. Pollock asks if Brendt cooked much, and Zortman says she thinks he made a steak once when they were in Wisconsin. In the courtroom, Brendt smirks when he hears this.
Zortman says all the cooking equipment in their apartment was hers. Pollock then brings up Christensen’s noted internet search for “knife sharpening”.
Zortman says she wasn’t good at sharpening the knives, and that Brendt had more free time, so she delegated the task to him. However, she says he never got around to doing it.
Zortman says Brendt started drinking a lot in Wisconsin. She says she didn’t press the issue, because he stopped drinking whenever school started back up.
She says they started having marital and sleep issues in 2016.
Zortman says she got angry about Brendt’s drinking, saying she asked him to stop, but he kept coming up with excuses not to.
She says Brendt got really drunk one time in December 2016, and said things that disturbed her. She says the marriage was never the same after that.
Zortman says she met a man she worked with, who propositioned her to open the marriage, as he had an open marriage.
Zortman says she brought the idea to Brendt. He took some time to think about it, but agreed to it a few days later.
Zortman says Brendt isn’t a very emotionally expressive person, which was always a marital issue. However, she says he didn’t seem upset about the idea. She says he started dating someone a few weeks later.
Zortman says they had loose rules for the arrangement. One such rule was that they always spent more time with each other than with other people.
Zortman told Brendt she was contemplating divorce in March 2017. She says then, he was crying and very emotional. However, with his drinking and substance abuse, she felt the marriage had hit a “dead end”.
She says Brendt convinced her to stay.
Zortman says the two of them never engaged in alternative sexual practices or BDSM.
She says it was her understanding that everyone called Brendt’s girlfriend Terra Bullis “Bunny”. Zortman says she was aware of their sexual experimentation.
Zortman says she and her boyfriend (Ryan) were also experimenting.
Pollock then steers the conversation to the time the FBI showed up at midnight on June 14, 2017. She refers to the picture investigators took of the BDSM equipment in the bedroom.
Zortman says some of the equipment was Bunny’s, and some of it was Brendt’s. She says she talked with Brendt about possibly buying bed restraints back in April.
Zortman says she and Ryan decided they wanted to go on a weekend trip to Wisconsin Dells. She says she and Brendt went there multiple times.
She says she didn’t really consider Brendt’s feelings on the matter at all. She says she just picked a weekend in early June, and that it didn’t seem to bother him.
However, a few short days before the trip, Zortman says Brendt got upset about it.
She says they left very early in the morning on Friday, June 9th, because Ryan wanted to leave while it was still dark.
Zortman says when she returned, the apartment appeared to be in normal condition. There were no weird smells.
Zortman says she saw Brendt leave the apartment with a duffel bag, but it didn’t look like there was much in it. She said there was nothing suspicious about it. She says Brendt said he was going to Bunny’s house.
The night the agents showed up to the apartment, she says she consented for them to search the apartment and do an interview with her. She says she didn’t feel like she had much of a choice in the matter.
Zortman says she talked with Special Agent Tenaglia, and that she was very upset that night.
The night of Zhang’s walk and concert, Zortman says Brendt called her asking for a ride because he was drunk. Zortman says he’s a “good drunk,” as he was being goofy and joking around.
Zortman says that one of the conditions of her staying with Brendt is that he had to go to rehab. She says he told her he went once.
On the ride home, Zortman says she was upset at Brendt because he started picking at the window tint and it started peeling off, causing an unpleasant smell.
Zortman says she continued to communicate with Brendt after his arrest, via phone. She says she continued to support him while he was in jail because she didn’t know what else to do.
One of those recorded phone calls is played in court. They discuss that several people were trying to find his Reddit account. Brendt says he wants his privacy.
Then Pollock changes the subject:
Pollock: “You now know that Brendt did, in fact, cause the death of Miss Zhang.”
Zortman: “Yes.”Courtroom exhange between Pollock and Zortman
Pollock: “You still talk to him.”
Pollock: “Even though you divorced him.”
Zortman says it’s because he was a big part of her life, and she still cares about him.
AUSA Miller cross-examines Zortman. He asks her more about her trip.
She says Brendt was stressed because he graduated, and had to find a job.
Zortman says they both had separate computers, and that he used a VPN for private internet access. She says she never saw what was on his computer.
Zortman says they kept the baseball bat under the bed. She says she never really used it.
Miller then brings up the Astra. He has Zortman confirm she filled it up with gas on the Wednesday before she left on her weekend trip (June 7th).
Agreeing with Miller’s math, Zortman agrees the Astra would’ve gotten about 400 miles to a tank. She says she noticed it had about half a tank left when she went to work on the following Monday.
Miller says that amounts to about 200 miles of driving. Zortman says she didn’t think anything of it at the time.
Miller gets Zortman to admit that when FBI agents showed up at their apartment, she had no doubt about the reason they were there.
Miller points out that Brendt didn’t tell them anything about picking up the missing student at that time.
Zortman says she’s aware her ex-husband is responsible for Zhang’s death, but she doesn’t know about her being in the Astra.
She says Brendt picking anyone up would be completely out of character for him.
Miller points out that there’s a 3.5-hour period on Friday, June 9th, when there’s no text message activity from Christensen.
Zortman says she doesn’t remember whether Brendt was clean shaven or not that day.
She says before she saw him carry out the duffel bag on Monday the 12th, he’d shown it to her once before. She said it would have been weeks ago.
When he carried it out, Zortman says she was in the computer room. She agrees with Miller that the bag is very large, and that a person could fit in it.
Zortman also agrees that Brendt would have been able to carry the bag if its contents weighed 110 pounds.
Zortman says she noticed boxes of baking soda in the utility room, assuming Brendt put them there. She says he showed her a blood stain on the mattress, telling her he had a nosebleed.
Zortman agrees that the stain was sizeable, but didn’t follow Miller’s attempt to characterize it as too large for a typical nosebleed, because she says she’d never had a nosebleed before and wouldn’t know.
Zortman says at times, Bullis cleaned the apartment for him. She says they never cleaned the car much.
Zortman says Brendt never got angry or violent when he drank. She says she established ground rules for his drinking, and although he sometimes followed them, he would substitute alcohol with other substances.
Zortman says that spring, she wasn’t afraid of Brendt, though she did become leery. She says she wouldn’t sleep in the same room with him, and that she had something on the door to make noise if he came in.
She says he had a one-night stand in the apartment one time.
She says she was cooperative with the FBI, and agrees that she suggested Brendt should go with them for questioning.
Miller shows the court the document of Zortman’s signature, indicating her consent for agents to search the apartment.
Zortman says while she was in contact with investigators, they kept asking the same questions over and over, but they eventually stopped.
Pollock recrosses Zortman. She reconfirms her statement on Brendt’s habit of substituting other substances for alcohol.
Zortman agrees that one’s tolerance for alcohol can decrease if they stop drinking for a time.
Zortman says they went to marriage counseling at one point, and it was successful. She agrees that she was the one who brought up the ideas of opening the marriage, and later divorce.
Defense witness #4: Andrew Huckstadt
The defense calls Special Agent Andrew Huckstadt back to the stand. It’s an interesting choice, seeing as he’s been sitting at the table with the AUSAs the whole time.
They play the entire video of Christensen being interviewed by someone at the UI Counseling Center. There is no transcript, and much of it is hard to hear.
Christensen tells the counselor that he convinced his wife to stay. He talks about his alcohol problems, saying his wife doesn’t like it when he drinks.
He mentions he smoked pot for one summer in college, but stopped after he moved.
He says he used to drink beer, and progressed to hard liquor, specifically rum, because it was the cheapest. He says once, it took him only 8 hours to consume an entire bottle.
Christensen says he’s been to the hospital a few times to anxiety attacks. He says he’s gone through periods of sobriety, but that it was driven mostly by alcohol affecting his nutrition or fitness goals.
Christensen says he had depression as a teenager, and that he had low self-esteem.
He says he tried as hard as he could to get a PHD. She says he’s been having sleeping problems.
Christensen tells the counselor his mother was an alcoholic, and that he doesn’t talk to his siblings much. He says he doesn’t have any friends, or have a desire to.
He says the only point of contention between he and his wife is his substance abuse, adding that she said she wanted to separate one morning.
Christensen says he started focusing on trying to graduate.
He mentions he considered committing suicide a few times over the last month, adding that he’s had suicidal thoughts in the past. He says he never planned it, but just had a general idea.
“I’ve always been interested in the bad guys…” he details, talking about his interest in serial killers. He mentions Ted Bundy.
Christensen tells the counselor about how he knows he’s not a genius, realizing that he’d never be a great physicist.
He then talks about the aforementioned plans he’s thought out that are “pretty far along” about how he’d kill someone. “I think I know how I would do it” he says.
Christensen adds, “I realized how not worth it it was…” He says he told Michelle about these thoughts a few months ago, and that’s what prompted her to tell him to stop drinking.
The counselor asks him what he does to stop himself from committing suicide, but it’s hard to hear his response on the video.
At the end of the appointment, the counselor talks to him about resources available to him: walk-in appointments at McKinley Health Center and the counseling center, phone lines, etc.
Christensen says he doesn’t talk to his psychiatrist a lot.
The counselor suggests group therapy, individual therapy, and community referrals to outside practices.
“I just want to make sure we have an idea of what we can do to keep you safe,” she tells him.
Christensen says it would help if his wife spent time with him. The counselor also tells him about a phone app that can help with breathing exercises and anxiety-related issues.
The video ends, and Pollock starts asking Huckstadt questions. She points out that Christensen was supposed to get some sort of a consultation during that appointment, but that it didn’t happen.
Pollock also asks whether Huckstadt was aware that Christensen went back to the counseling center again and repeated his plans to kill people, with more detail, and to a licensed counselor. Huckstadt says he’s aware.
She asks him for more information about the FBI’s investigation into his claims he killed 12 other people. He says Christensen’s DNA profile was submitted to a couple law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin.
Huckstadt says one of those agencies returned results of Christensen’s profile not matching their missing person case. He says he’s still waiting to hear back from the other, which Pollock confirms means there’s just one outstanding investigation that could possibly involve Christensen.
Pollock has Huckstadt explain the payments Bullis got from the FBI. He says she got $1,000 prior to Zhang’s memorial walk for “services” for the period of June 16 to 21. He says the payments were made to her under an alias.
Nelson recrosses Huckstadt. Huckstadt says the payment to an informant has to be approved through multiple people in a chain of command.
Nelson points out that Christensen told both his counselor and Bullis about his interest in serial killers.
Judge Shaded interrupts, saying we’ve heard all that before.
Nelson points out that it’s all described in the transcript, then sits down.
Pollock recrosses Huckstadt. She has him confirm that in his Facebook messages, he tells a friend he’s bored with physics.
When Pollock has no further questions, the jury recesses.
Christensen speaks in court for the first time
The jury is gone. Judge Shadid addressed Brendt Christensen directly.
He informs him of his right to testify, adding that it’s his choice to do so, and asking several questions to confirm whether or not Christensen has made that choice independent of anyone else’s desires.
“Whether or not you testify is your decision,” he says, “Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” Christensen says. He later responds “That’s correct,” to another question.
Christensen confirms he’s not going to testify. Then the legal teams have a brief debate.
Tucker (for the defense) challenges wording in one of the transcripts.
Taseff (for the defense) again challenges Charles Hill’s credibility as a witness, saying he has a motive to testify for the government, because he has a pending criminal case he’d want to get resolved.
The defense submits counseling notes to Shadid, asking for them to be admitted as evidence. They say Christensen’s mental state on June 29th (the night of Zhang’s walk and concert) are the “linchpin” of their case.
The government protests this. The judge says he’ll consider it.
At this point, the defense rests their case. The government is now allowed a rebuttal.
Government witness: Loren Moneypenny
Loren Moneypenny says he’s the FBI agent who interviewed Charles Hill.
He says Hill told him Christensen told Hill he got Zhang into his car because he had a badge and a walkie-talkie.
George Taseff cross-examines Moneypenny. He confirms Christensen didn’t tell him anything about zip ties or restraints being present in the car.
All evidence has been presented
“Does that conclude the government’s evidence?” the judge asks.
“Yes it does, Your Honor,” Miller says.
The judge tells the jury they’ll reconvene at 9:30 Monday morning. When they’re gone, he tells both legal teams to stick around so they can work on what instructions they’ll give the jury before they deliberate.
Shadid says he prefers to do this “informally”, although it will still be in open court.
This reporter only witnessed about five minutes of the process. Shadid had his robe off, and Christensen elected to stick around to see it happen. The teams were citing previous cases, and debating whether Bullis’s informant work legally determined her to be a law enforcement agent or not.
Day 9, Monday: Closing arguments and deliberations
Before the jury is brought in, Judge Shadid finalizes the jury instructions with both legal teams. There’s a brief debate over whether Christensen’s statements should be considered evidence or testimony.
After a recess, lawyers representing the University of Illinois appear to respond to the defense team’s motion requesting the court to ask them to show why they shouldn’t be held in contempt of court, after they failed to provide all documents pertaining to Christensen’s assessment at the UI Counseling Center.
The lawyers have a folder that they say contains all documents that could possibly be responsive to the request. They say a lot of it could be considered privileged communication, which wouldn’t be admissible as evidence.
The lawyers tell the judge they were talking with the defense team, and wanted their conversation to continue, but the motion was filed before they could come to an agreement.
They say the withheld materials are communication between the counseling staff and University lawyers, which would constitute attorney-client privilege.
The lawyers also say since two counseling center employees have already been sued in the separate aforementioned civil lawsuit, that privilege is important.
Pollock responds, saying the UI’s lawyers refused to file a motion to quash the subpoena, despite multiple emails asking for their response.
Judge Shadid says he’ll review all the documents.
The jury is instructed
After another recess, there’s more bickering from the legal teams about what the jury instructions are to be.
Pollock says she wants the government to be precluded from arguing about the truthfulness of some of Christensen’s statements. Miller calls her argument “preposterous”.
The jury is brought in. The judge spends 10 or 15 minutes instructing them, reminding them not to be influenced by anyone or anything outside of the courtroom, and that they can only consider Christensen’s statements about his alleged “12 other victims” to assess his state of mind.
The judge also tells them they’ll have the opportunity to listen to evidence recordings again, that they shouldn’t consider any potential punishment at this time, and that they are to choose a foreperson.
The government makes closing arguments
AUSA Miller starts what will become a filibuster of a closing argument.
Throughout, the strip of carpet taken as evidence and the duffel bag the FBI purchased were on display for the jury to see.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he says, “He kidnapped her. He murdered her. He covered up his crime.”
Miller says the evidence overwhelmingly has shown that Christensen committed the crimes after months of premeditation. He says Christensen spent three weeks trying to cover up his crimes and lying to the FBI.
Miller tells asks the jury to consider the relevant question at hand, which is “Has the United States proven the defendant guilty?”
Miller thanked the jurors for their attention and time, and asks them to rely on their memory of the evidence presented during the trial.
“The tragic truth is that Yingying is gone,” says Miller. He says the government has presented a “mountain of evidence.”
“In opening statements, the defense called this a downward spiral,” says Miller, “And that’s a fair characterization.”
Miller says there’s an old proverb: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” He says during the spring of 2017, Christensen spent his idle time to plan his crime.
“Alcohol didn’t put these thoughts in his head,” Miller says, saying he had the dark thoughts anyway. He says he continued to plan a murder regardless.
“By March 31, 2017, he already knew how to abduct and kill someone,” he says.
Miller says Christensen already knew how to do it before he met Terra Bullis, and that his meeting her didn’t cause any of it.
Miller refers to Christensen’s deleted internet history, and hidden files, calling him computer savvy, and referring to the fact Christensen used a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Miller says Christensen’s motive was clear, after he told a counselor he realized he wouldn’t be great at physics, and implied he could be a successful murderer.
“Unfortunately, serial killers are real,” Miller says.
Miller says Christensen told Bullis it would be easy to get away with murder. He recounts the defendant’s ordering of the duffle bag, and buying items related to his plans. He talks about Christensen’s visits to FetLife.
“He didn’t want to get drunk,” Miller says of Christensen’s actions on June 9th, “…after all, he had a murder to execute.”
Miller says Christensen compared himself to Ted Bundy, and talks about his use of a police badge to lure someone into his car.
Fortunately for Emily Hogan, he says, she didn’t get in the car. Miller then talks about Zhang.
“We know that she never arrived at One North,” he says.
Miller then recounts the gory details of what he says happened in Christensen’s apartment, and how he says Christensen cleaned everything up and lied to the FBI.
He reminds the jury that they saw the luminol glowing on pieces of the apartment, and the DNA evidence forensics experts recovered. Miller mentions the blood on the bat, and his extensive cleaning of the Astra, despite Michelle’s testimony that they rarely cleaned it.
Miller recounts Christensen’s story about the duffel bag containing a cat tree. He says Christensen used the bag to kidnap Zhang, and disposed of it before the FBI took it as evidence.
Miller says he didn’t know that the defense would admit Christensen’s guilt during their opening statements.
“So why did we need to sit through eight days of evidence?” he asks.
At this point, Judge Shadid interrupts and asks to see the lawyers at sidebar. After a brief conversation, he tells everyone that had nothing to do with whatever Miller was about to say.
Miller resumes, answering the question he had just posed. He says the answer is contained in the jury instructions, because the government has a duty to prove Christensen guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that arguments or admissions by his lawyers don’t relieve the government of that responsibility.
That being said, Miller says he believes the United States has easily met that burden.
He then turns the jury’s attention to the jury’s instructions, as they relate to interpreting the indictment. He first talks about Counts 2 and 3: That Christensen lied to the FBI.
Miller says Count 2 refers to the fact that Christensen told FBI Special Agents Smith and Carter on June 12, 2017, that he was at home sleeping and playing video games on June 9th, instead of driving around.
Miller called that lie “preposterous”.
Miller says Count 3 refers to Christensen repeating the lie to FBI Special Agent Manganaro and UPID detective Eric Stiverson, citing that Christensen eventually admitted to picking a girl up.
Miller then reminds the jury of the likelihood ratio that the DNA on the strip of carpet taken from his apartment was not Zhang’s, which is one in 97 octillion. He also mentions Christensen’s recorded statements that contradict what he told the FBI.
Miller then explains the elements of Count 1, which is Kidnapping Resulting in Death. He says in order to find Christensen guilty, they must find that:
- Christensen abducted Yingying Zhang,
- He held her for his own purpose,
- He used his car or his cellphone (as an instrumentality of interstate commerce) in the commission of his crime,
- That Zhang died because of Christensen’s actions.
Miller again tells the jury that Christensen took Zhang to his apartment.
“Not that he viewed her as another human being,” he says. He also mentions that Zhang was never seen again.
Miller says this was always about murder. He says Christensen took great pleasure in being the only one who knew Zhang was dead.
“Regrettably, the evidence is overwhelming,” he says, “We urge you to return a verdict of guilty, for Counts one, two, and three.”
“Alcohol is not responsible for Yingying Zhang’s murder. The defendant is,” he says, saying it doesn’t matter how much Christensen drank. “Two shows, no shots, four shots,” he says.
“Michelle Zortman is not responsible for Yingying Zhang’s murder. The defendant is.”
Miller says Christensen had the desire to kill. He also says Terra Bullis is not responsible for this.
At this point. Pollock objects, saying Miller misstated what Taseff said in his opening statements, saying they never said that alcohol, Zortman, or Bullis were responsible.
The judge reminds that jury that opening and closing arguments aren’t evidence.
Miller sits down.
The defense makes closing arguments
Elisabeth Pollock gets up to make her closing argument.
She thanks the jury, telling them “We all know how horrible it is…” to listen to the things they’ve heard over the last week.
Pollock then reminds the jury of Asst. Federal Defender George Taseff’s opening statements.
“He told you we’re not trying to make excuses for Brendt’s killing of Yingying Zhang,” she says, “We are not going to contest the facts.”
Then she makes a counterpoint.
“There are certain things that you don’t know. That you can’t know. That the government wants you to assume,” she says.
‘We’re here because the government wants to take his life.”
Miller immediately objects, saying this isn’t that phase of the trial. The judge responds, then allows Pollock to continue.
Pollock says the government provided them with a long narrative of what they think happened. She says the government is asking them to assume Christensen used the duffel bag in Zhang’s kidnapping or killing.
Pollock praises the power of the FBI, making the point that despite everything the FBI could do, they never found the bag.
“In a case of this import, you can’t assume,” Pollock speaks of filling in the details.
She calls Christensen’s recorded conversations “awful and horrible,” saying it made one question what kind of person could have such dark thoughts.
Pollock then addresses Miller’s closing argument, where he made the point that neither alcohol, Bullis, or Michelle caused Zhang’s death.
‘We never said it was Michelle’s fault,” Pollock says, “It’s Brendt’s fault. There’s no excuse of justification for what he did.”
Pollock says he lost control of everything, and then details the dark thoughts he was having. She says Christensen indeed told the counselor about his thoughts, and that it should have been a red flag.
She says he struggled against those thoughts, and he didn’t win.
“It’s nobody’s fault but his,” she reiterates.
Pollock says BDSM is a sexual practice that happens between two consenting adults, but argues that his BDSM relationship with Bullis established the link between sex and violence for him.
“It’s pretty clear from the evidence…” she tells the jury, saying their verdict should be obvious. She says all they need is Miller’s elements, though she asks them to remain open-minded. She asks them to remember what has been proven, and what has not.
She says after the verdict, they’ll go on.
The government has a rebuttal
The government is allowed a rebuttal. Miller addresses the jury again.
Miller tells them they’re entitled to make “reasonable inferences”. He also says Christensen’s link between sex and violence was there long before any of the events covered in the trial.
The jury deliberates
With the jury instructed, and closing arguments finished, Judge Shadid calls forth the court security officers (CSOs) to be sworn in. This is important because they will be the line of communication between the jury and the judge.
The time is about 11:30 AM. Shadid says he’s ordered lunch for everyone, and that it should be there around 12:15 or so.
Once the jury reaches a verdict, Shadid tells them to notify him VIA their chosen foreman delivering a note. He says because of the media interest in the case, he will hold the verdict for 30 minutes before reading it in open court.
The jury leaves to deliberate.
The jury reaches a verdict
At 1:30 PM, members of the media get an email announcing that a verdict has been reached.
Court reconvenes at 2:00. Judge Shadid asks the foreman if the jury has reached a verdict, and he confirms that that have. The judge receives a piece of paper from the foreman.
Judge Shadid reads the verdict: Brendt Christensen is guilty, on all three counts.
Shadid says court will reconvene at 1:30 PM on July 8 for the sentencing portion of the trial.
Last updated on Thursday, 7/11 at 3:22 pm.