CHICAGO (CBS) — “How am I supposed to carry on? I really don’t know how to carry on without her,” said the mother of YingYing Zhang, the Chinese scholar murdered by Brendt Christensen at the University of Illinois.
Zhang’s mother gave a translated testimony so emotional it led to a court recess, so the crying juror, who had to excuse herself, could rejoin the court.
After questioning she was allowed to remain on the jury that will decide whether Christensen, convicted of kidnapping and killing 26-year-old Zhang will receive a death sentence or life in prison.
The case was tried in federal court, which still allows juries to hand down death sentences, despite the state’s ban on capital punishment.
On June 9, 2017, Christensen spotted Zhang, who was waiting at a bus stop, and took her to his apartment where he choked her, beat her with a bat, raped her, stabbed her and ultimately decapitated her.
Zhang had been in the United States only months.
“She is part of me as if my life without her would not be complete,” Zhang’s father Ronggao Zhang testified.
Some of Zhang’s fiance’s testimony was stricken from the record after the defense called for a mistrial, citing improper victim impact testimony. The judge told jurors they cannot consider the opinions on Christensen, his crimes or his punishment.
At one point Christensen cried during Zhang’s father’s testimony, but he has shown no remorse for the barbaric killing he carefully planned and has never revealed what he did with Zhang’s body.
While prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, defense attorneys say life in prison is enough, pointing to Christensen’s mental health struggles and attempts to get help.