FILE - This photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff's Office in Decatur, Ill., shows Brendt Christensen. The former University of Illinois doctoral student on trial in the killing of a visiting scholar from China bought Drano and garbage bags three days after the slaying, according to testimony Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Macon County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

Illinois jury begins deliberating in Chinese scholar's death

June 24, 2019 - 10:34 am

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Monday in the federal death-penalty trial of a former University of Illinois doctoral student accused of killing a visiting scholar from China.

Prosecutor Eugene Miller pointed at the defendant, Brendt Christensen, during closing arguments and told jurors evidence at the trial proved he kidnapped, raped and killed Yingying Zhang.

"The tragic truth is Yingying is gone," Miller said as a photo of the smiling 26-year-old was displayed on a courtroom monitor. "There is only one person responsible — and he sits right there."

An attorney for Christensen, 29, repeated what the defense said in openings, that their client killed Zhang. But Elisabeth Pollock said her client was "someone who lost control ... who battled these dark thoughts."

When she added, "We are here because the government wants to take his life," the prosecution objected and Judge James Shadid stopped her. He told jurors they were not yet in the penalty phase of the trial and the only issue now was the defendant's guilt or innocence.

Miller told jurors that Christensen abducted a stranger from a street near campus, someone he didn't view as human.

"She was an object for him to fulfill his dark desire — to kill for the sake of killing," he said.

Christensen twisted and pulled at a rubber band at a nearby defense table in a blue dress shirt and beard. Zhang's father sat on a front bench several feet away, listening to a Chinese interpretation of proceedings through a headset.

Jurors withdrew just before noon, the judge saying he would provide 30 minutes notice to the public when he gets word they have reached a verdict.