CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Court documents show Brendt Christensen did offer to plead guilty, but federal prosecutors rejected his offer for several reasons.
In a motion filed in March, the government says Christensen offered to plead guilty for a sentence of life in prison in December 2017, which was about six months after he kidnapped UI Scholar Yingying Zhang.
The motion notes that in return, Christensen would cooperate and answer questions honestly with regard to the ongoing investigation into the location of Zhang’s remains.
However, federal prosecutors say his defense team refused to accept that the plea was “contingent on the recovery” of Zhang’s remains. The government then consulted with Zhang’s family, who then worked through their lawyers to tell the government what they would want Christensen’s sentencing options to be.
At that point, the government forwarded the deal to the Attorney General, who declined it and the authorized a potential death sentence. Documentation shows federal prosecutors argued Christensen’s offer to plead guilty was based on the fact that he knew they had overwhelming evidence against him, and that it was more of an attempt to spare his own life, as opposed to showing genuine remorse and sparing Zhang’s family more agony.
After the plea was rejected, Christensen’s defense team made motions arguing his willingness to plead guilty and cooperate should be admitted as evidence. The government argued the opposite.
“Any evidence or argument that the defendant may have considered pleading guilty on the condition he received the lowest available sentence for his conduct,” federal prosecutors wrote, “so long as he was not required to satisfy any conditions in exchange, is not evidence of acceptance of responsibility or remorse.”