The Latest: Prosecutor makes case to jury for death penalty

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — The Latest on sentencing hearing for man convicted in death of Chinese scholar (all times local):

3:55 p.m.

A prosecutor is telling a federal jury that convicted a former University of Illinois doctoral student last month in the kidnapping and killing a Chinese scholar deserves the death penalty because the crime was “cold, calculated, cruel and months in the making.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Nelson on the first day of the penalty phase of told the jury about how Brendt Christensen not only brutally killed Yingying Zhang in June 2017, he hid her body and has deprived her family the chance to give her a proper burial in China. He said “there will be no closure” for the family.

The jurors will be asked during the trial’s penalty phase that’s expected to last several days whether they should follow the recommendation of prosecutors by imposing the death penalty or order Christensen to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole as his attorneys are expected to recommend.

To make its case, the defense called a court-appointed attorney who told the jury about Christensen’s lifelong struggle with mental health issues.


1:15 p.m.

A federal judge will allow jurors at the sentencing hearing of a former University of Illinois doctoral student to watch videos made by the mother and friends of the Chinese scholar he was convicted of kidnapping, torturing and killing.

During a Monday morning hearing ahead of the penalty phase of the trial, U.S. District Judge James Shadid said prosecutors can play clips of calls that Brendt Christensen made from jail in which they say he asserts his innocence. The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports that prosecutors want to use the clips to show Christensen’s lack of remorse.

Prosecutors want to convince the same jury that last month found Christensen guilty in the kidnapping and slaying of Yingying Zhang to decide that he should be put to death. Christensen’s attorneys hope jurors will sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


10:41 p.m. Sunday

The same federal jury that last month convicted a former University of Illinois doctoral student of kidnapping and torturing a scholar visiting from China will now be asked to decide if the man should be executed.

Prosecutors will argue Monday that Brendt Christensen should be put to death and attorneys for the 2017 kidnapping and death of Yingying Zhang. Defense attorneys will ask that Christensen be sentenced to life without parole.

The proceedings will unfold as kind of a mini-trial that will include opening statements, exhibits, testimony and closing arguments.

The 30-year-old Christensen might testify. And in an effort to save his life, he could possibly reveal what he did with Zhang’s body, which has never been found.

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