Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek death penalty against alleged kidnapper Brendt Christensen


Photo Courtsey of UIPD

Brendt Christensen’s lawyers filed 12 pretrial motions Monday.

By Andrea Flores, Assistant Daytime News Editor

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will seek the death penalty against Brendt Christensen, according to a news release sent out Friday afternoon, which included the court filing.

Christensen is charged with the kidnapping resulting in death of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang on June 9, 2017.

The filing holds that the circumstances of the offense of kidnapping resulting in death, as charged in count one of the superseding indictment returned on Oct. 3, 2017, justify a death sentence, provided Christensen is found guilty.

Prosecutors alleged that Christensen choked and sexually assaulted a woman in the Champaign-Urbana area in 2013, and that he expressed a “desire to be known as a killer.”

Another indictment returned against Christensen alleges he held Zhang against her will and used a cellular phone and Saturn Astra motor vehicle, which are both instruments of interstate commerce, to commit the kidnapping. In furtherance of the commission of the offense, the kidnapping resulted in the death of Zhang.

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The death sentence also follows factors that allege Christensen acted with intent against Zhang, and these intentional acts of violence resulted in her death.

The government’s notice sets statutory factors that the offense was committed during another crime, being Zhang’s kidnapping, as well as being committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, involving torture or serious physical abuse. These factors include that Christensen committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation.

Non-statutory factors in the notice not previously alleged assert the impact on Zhang’s family, friends and coworkers, Christensen’s dangerousness and lack of remorse, Zhang’s vulnerability due to her small stature and limited ability to speak English and Christensen’s alleged attempt to obstruct the investigation by making false statements, concealing the victim’s remains and sanitizing the crime scene.

Christensen was arrested and charged by criminal complaint on June 30, 2017, and he remains detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial.

Christensen’s trial date remains set for Feb. 27.

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