Guilty: Christensen faces possibility of death penalty, trial to resume July 8


Samantha Boyle

Xinyang Zhang, Yingying’s brother (left) leads their mother, Lifeng Ye (center) after the family addresses the public. Ronggao Zhang, Yingying and Xinyang’s father (right) made the statement. Brendt Christensen was found guilty by the jury on Monday and the sentencing phase will begin July 8.

By Samantha Boyle, News Editor

Brendt Christensen officially faces the death penalty as a jury found him guilty Monday afternoon after hearing witness testimonies and viewing evidence over the past eight days.

It took less than two hours for the jury to decide Christensen is guilty of kidnapping resulting in death and two counts of false statements to the FBI.

Visiting scholar Yingying Zhang was last seen getting into Christensen’s car on June 9, 2017. She was on her way to tour the apartments at ONE North in Urbana, but she never showed up to her appointment.

Prosecutors claim Christensen drove Zhang back to his apartment where he raped, stabbed and decapitated her. Zhang’s body has not been found, and she is presumed dead.

In the days following Zhang’s disappearance — June 12, 2017 and June 15, 2017 — Christensen is reported to have made his two false statements to the FBI. First, he said he was at home playing video games and sleeping all day when asked about what he was doing on June 9, 2017. He was actually driving around in his black Saturn Astra that day.

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    Later when questioned again, he admitted to having picked up a young Asian female on June 9, 2017 and claimed he dropped her off at a nearby residential area, when he actually took her back to his apartment.

    Prosecutor Eugene Miller and defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock made their closing arguments Monday morning. The jury started deliberating sometime after 11:34 a.m. followed by a guilty verdict; therefore, a sentencing will be necessary to determine whether Christensen should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    This phase is set up similar to the guilty/not guilty phase. Both sides will make opening statements, call witnesses and evidence and eventually make their closing statements.

    Opening statements for this phase will begin July 8 at 1 p.m. as the attorneys and jurors take a break for Independence Day.

    Once the verdict was reached on Monday afternoon, Zhang’s father Ronggao Zhang made a statement outside the courthouse.

    “On behalf of Yingying, our beloved daughter, and for my wife, my son and myself, I thank the jury for this step towards justice,” said Ronggao in Chinese. His statement was translated by the family’s attorney, Zhidong Wang.

    “We have missed Yingying tremendously in the past two years. As of (Monday), we still could not imagine how we will live the rest of our lives without her,” Ronggao said.

    Samantha Boyle
    “There is no language that can describe our pain and suffering. We hope and believe that this trial will eventually bring justice to Yingying and us,” said Ronggao Zhang, Yingying’s father in a statement following Monday’s verdict. Xiaolin Hou, Yingying’s boyfriend who she planned to marry in October 2017, stands to the right of Ronggao.

    A statement on behalf of the Zhang family was also given to members of media on paper but was not read out loud.

    The statement called Ziaolin Hou, Yingying’s fiance, a member of the Zhang family as he has shown love for Yingying being present in Peoria for the trial. Hou testified on June 12.

    “We understand that all want to know the family’s feelings about the sentencing phase of this case,” the statement reads. “However, all we can say at this time is that we trust that the jury’s decision will be made in the name of justice for Yingying.”

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