Attorney Admits University of Illinois Student Killed Chinese Scholar
In court on Wednesday, accused killer Brendt Christensen’s attorney confirmed that his client kidnapped and killed Yingying Zhang, a Chinese scholar who has been missing for two years.
Kicking off Christensen’s death penalty trial, defense attorney George Taseff described to jurors for the first time the grim detals of how his client brought Zhang’s life to an end.
“Brendt Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang,” Taseff said in his opening statement in the federal courtroom. “Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang, and nothing we say or do during this phase of the trial is intended to sidestep or deny that Brendt Christensen was responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang.”
Zhang, who was 26 at the time, was visiting the University of Illinois to conduct research. Christensen was a graduate student instructor on campus.
The prosecutor in the trial said Christensen kidnapped Zhang near the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, a small midwestern city surrounded by farmland. She was last seen getting into the man’s car in June 2017.
Christensen then raped and stabbed her to death, and decapitated her body to dispose of it in an unknown location, assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller told the jury.
“He claimed they will never find her,” Miller said, according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
The trial has drawn intense interest within the small college community Champaign and neighboring Urbana. Zhang’s family also traveled to the U.S. from China after her disappearance and has since been seen at the trial.
Prosecutors say Christensen had previously expressed interest in serial killers, practiced bondage and sado-masochism and had attempted to arrange a “consensual kidnapping” via a fetishist website.
They added that they intend to show the jury secret audio recordings of Christensen admitting to the kidnapping and boasting of being a serial killer.
The surveillance recordings allegedly feature the 29-year-old “explaining how he kidnapped” Zhang and “held her in his apartment against her will,” according to court documents.
Prosecutors also intend to claim that Christensen posed as a police officer and attempted to lure someone else into his car earlier on the same day that Zhang went missing.
On Friday, attorneys representing Zhang’s estate filed a civil lawsuit against Christensen and two university-employed social workers claiming wrongful death and negligence.
The lawsuit claims Christensen sought help for prescription drug and alcohol abuse, as well as homicidal and suicidal thoughts, and “an obsession with serial killers.” Social workers allegedly devised a treatment plan, but failed to alert the university that Christensen was a potential threat, according to the lawsuit.
This story was written with contributions from AFP.