(AP) – A federal prosecutor has shared with jurors grisly details of how they claim a former University of Illinois doctoral student kidnapped a visiting scholar from China, then brutally beat and killed her.
Opening statements began Wednesday in federal court in Peoria in death-penalty trial of Brendt Christensen. Christensen is accused of luring 26-gear-old Yingying Zhang into his car in June, 2017 as she headed to sign a lease off campus.
Prosecutors told jurors Wednesday that Christensen took Zhang to his apartment where he raped, choked and stabbed her in his bedroom. They said Christensen later pummeled her in the head with a baseball bat in his bathroom before decapitating her.
The attorneys for Christensen told jurors that the defense are admitting that their client kidnapped and killed a visiting Chinese scholar in 2017.
George Tesseff said in his opening statement Wednesday that he realized it was exceptional for a defense attorney to say his client committed the crime.
But he said that 29-year-old Brendt Christensen was “on trial for his life,” alluding to the possibility of a death sentence if he is found guilty of kidnapping and killing 26-year-old Yingying Zhang.
While the defense agreed Christensen kidnapped and killed Zhang, Tesseff said they took issue with prosecutors’ explanation of “how and why.”
Defense teams in death penalty trials often have the goal of ensuring their client does not get the death penalty and so their focus is on that and not on winning a not-guilty verdict.
The case is being closely watched by Chinese students across the U.S. The University of Illinois has more than 5,000 Chinese students, among the largest such enrollments in the nation.