Cases rest after Christensen’s ex-wife, ex-girlfriend testify


Samantha Boyle

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse sits at 100 Northeast St. in Peoria. The trial for Brendt Christensen, alleged kidnapper and murderer of Yingying Zhang, began here June 3 with the jury selection process. The defense and prosecutors made their closing statements Monday.

By Samantha Boyle, News Editor

After numerous witnesses took the stand over the last week and a half, closing statements in Brendt Christensen’s trial are set to begin on Monday.

Although the defense has not denied Christensen’s responsibility in the death of visiting scholar Yingying Zhang’s death, he is still pleading not guilty to the charges against him, which includes kidnapping resulting in death.

Zhang was last seen alive getting into Christensen’s black Saturn Astra on June 9, 2017. Christensen was arrested for kidnapping Zhang a few weeks later on his birthday, June 30, 2017. Zhang’s body has never been found, but she is presumed dead by the FBI.

Almost two years later, Christensen’s trial began in Peoria on June 3 with the jury selection process and opening statements began June 12. Since then, several witnesses have testified in front of the jury, including Christensen’s ex-girlfriend Terra Bullis and his ex-wife Michelle Zortman, both called by the defense.

Bullis cooperated with the FBI when she wore a wire to Zhang’s memorial walk on June 29, 2017, during her testimony, she said she was terrified during this time. It was then when he talked about kidnapping and killing Zhang, bragging about what he had done.

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    “Yingying’s gone,” he said in the recordings. “She’s gone forever.” 

    However, the defense also claims Christensen was also drunk during the memorial service.

    During Zortman’s testimony, she told the jury about her marriage to Chirstensen. They got married in 2011 and really only had each other.

    She said his drinking and substance abuse made it feel like their marriage had hit a dead end. She initially wanted to divorce Christensen, but they decided to date other people and have an open relationship instead. Zortman and Christensen both started dating other people.

    The weekend Zhang went missing, Zortman and her boyfriend took a trip to Wisconsin Dells.

    In her testimony, she said she knows Christensen is responsible for Zhang’s death.

    Christensen himself did not testify during the trial; however, a video of his counseling session with a University Counseling Center intern was played for the court.

    He told the intern about his alcohol and substance abuse, his marriage falling apart and his suicidal and homicidal thoughts, telling her about his fascination with serial killers. However, Christensen said he would not act on these thoughts because he did not want to live with the guilt.

    “I want to get help. I’m not that type of person,” Christensen is reported saying to the intern.

    After the closing statements on Monday, the jury will have to decide on a verdict. If the jury finds Christensen guilty, the trial would move to the sentencing phase, where Christensen could phase the death penalty. The jury would have to unanimously vote for the death penalty. If they vote against the death penalty, Christensen will serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

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