CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — The jury deciding Brendt Christensen’s fate is preparing for another day of emotional testimony in the death penalty phase of his trial in the murder of Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.
Christensen was convicted two weeks ago of kidnapping and killing Zhang, and now the same jury that found him guilty is hearing testimony at his sentencing, to decide if he should face the death penalty or life in prison.
Zhang’s loved ones took the witness stand on Tuesday, giving testimony that brought jurors and even Christensen to tears as he described the pain of losing their daughter.
Zhang’s mother, father, and brother all spoke to jurors through a translator.
“How am I supposed to carry on living?” said Lifeng Ye, the mother of Yingying Zhang, whose testimony was on video. “I really don’t know how to carry on.”
Zhang’s mother talked about how she will not be able to see her daughter get married to her boyfriend like she had planned.
“My daughter did not get to wear a wedding dress,” she said. “I really wanted to be a grandma.”
At one point, as Zhang’s mother described her suffering, a juror started to cry and had to momentarily leave the courtroom.
The judge called a recess so she could rejoin the court. After questioning, she was allowed to remain on the jury.
Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, cried when shown a photo of her and him at a train station on her way to the United States.
“My life without her will not be complete,” he testified. Zhang was killed four months before they were to be wed.
Xiaolin Hou, Zhang’s boyfriend, told jurors she meant “everything” to her family.
“They cannot eat, they cannot sleep,” he said.
He said the only hope the family has left in their lives is that Zhang’s body may be found so they can return with it to China for burial.
Though Christensen also cried during Zhang’s father’s testimony, prosecutors have said he has not shown true remorse for killing Zhang, and has never revealed what he did with her body.
Federal prosecutors are expected to rest their case in the death penalty phase on Wednesday, and Christensen’s father is expected to take the stand as his defense team seeks to convince the jury to spare his life.
In opening statements Monday, the defense laid out why it doesn’t think Christensen should be executed. Reminding jurors that Christensen will die in prison, court-appointed attorney Julie Brain portrayed Christensen as a man who struggled with mental health issues for years and who had tried getting help with dealing with homicidal fantasies in the months before killing Zhang.
“What happened next was a four-year battle between Brendt and his demons that little by little, he lost,” Brain told the jury.
Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, but since Christensen is facing federal charges, the death penalty is still an option.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)