PEORIA (CBS) — A jury has found Brendt Christensen guilty in the kidnapping and killing Yingying Zhang, a University of Illinois scholar, in June of 2017.
It took the jury less than two hours to deliberate on Monday before convicting Christensen on three counts: kidnapping resulting in a death and two counts of lying to investigators. The same jury will participate in a separate proceeding to decide whether Christensen deserves the death penalty.
At a news conference after the verdict, Zhang’s mother broke down, weeping as her husband read a statement in Chinese.
“We cannot imagine living our lives without her,” he said, according to an English translation of the statement.
A family representative said after the verdict that the family would support a death sentence.
In closing arguments, Christensen’s defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock said to the jury, “I expect you will” find him guilty.
Defense attorneys have admitted that Christensen kidnapped and killed Zhang but have disputed some of the evidence and have tried to paint Christensen as a man with mental health and alcohol problems who does not deserve the death penalty.
“You have to go into the next phase of this trial—“ she said, before the judge cut her off and reminded the jury they are still in the guilt phase.
In his closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Eugene Miller emphasized that alcohol or Christensen’s rocky relationship with his ex-wife did not cause Zhang’s death.
“He has been planning and fantasizing about that moment for months and now, here he was actually doing it,” Miller said. “Raping and murdering another human being, not that he actually viewed her as a human being.”
Christensen was mostly expressionless during the closing arguments, looking straight ahead. At times, he spoke briefly with his attorney.
While Illinois abolished the death penalty, Christensen was charged in federal court, making him eligible for a death penalty case.