Prosecutors say suspect killed Chinese scholar, then cut her head off

Yingying Zhang's father Ronggao Zhang left and her friend Xiaolin Hou carry the banner as community members join together to walk for Yingying a Chinese scholar who went missing three weeks ago Thursday

Yingying Zhang's father Ronggao Zhang left and her friend Xiaolin Hou carry the banner as community members join together to walk for Yingying a Chinese scholar who went missing three weeks ago Thursday

- A federal prosecutor on Wednesday told jurors in grisly detail that authorities believe a former University of IL doctoral student kidnapped a visiting scholar from China, and beat her to death with a baseball bat.

A shocking admission of guilt in the kidnapping trial of Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying.

Later, the tall and muscular Christensen bound Zhang and got her into his apartment, where, Miller said, he raped Zhang in his bedroom and began stabbing her, blood splattering around the room.

Blood stains on the baseball bat investigators found in Christensen's apartment, along with multiple other stains found on his mattress and carpet, matched Yingying's DNA, according to prosecutors.

With Yingying Zhang's father sitting just a few feet away on a courtroom bench, prosecutor Eugene Miller also revealed for the first time that Brendt Christensen was captured on an Federal Bureau of Investigation wiretap bragging that Zhang had been his 13th victim. Prosecutors say investigators have not linked Christensen to any other cases at this time.

Brendt Christensen obsessed with Ted Bundy and other serial killers. She was studying photosynthesis and crop production at the university two months before she was reported missing on June 9, 2017.

A federal judge moved the trial to Peoria in central IL after Christensen's lawyers said pretrial publicity would have made it impossible for the 29-year-old former physics student to get a fair trial in the Champaign area, where the 45,000-student university is located.

The case is a rare instance of the U.S. Justice Department seeking the death penalty in one of the more than 20 states that doesn't have capital punishment.

The Justice Department cited evidence that Christensen tortured Zhang after taking advantage of the 26-year-old woman's small size and lack of English-speaking skills to lure her into his auto. She was on her way to sign a lease to an off-campus apartment and had just missed the bus when Christensen approached her in his vehicle and told her to get in.

A federal judge in Peoria, Illinois, told jurors to return Wednesday for opening statements.

Miller said the informant, Christensen's then-girlfriend, recorded multiple conversations between herself and the defendant.

Brendt Christiansen's attorney George Taseff said Wednesday that "Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang". Brendt Christensen could be sentenced to death if convicted in the 2017 slaying of Yingying Zhang, whose body hasn't been found.

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Prosecutors said Christensen was also heard explaining how he kidnapped Zhang while he was under surveillance. The government confirmed for the first time that there is DNA evidence linking Christensen to the crime.

After opening remarks, federal prosecutors will call their first witnesses.

The final selection of 12 jurors and six alternates happened Tuesday.

Jury selection began June 3.

If Christensen is convicted, there will then be a death-penalty phase where jurors would decide if Christensen should be executed.

The federal death-penalty case is the first in IL since the state struck capital punishment from its books on grounds death-penalty processes were too error-prone.

But Taseff said he took "serious issue" with the government's account of events.

The disappearance of Zhang, the daughter of working-class parents in China who aspired to become a professor, prompted a massive search.

Zhang had left her home in Nanping in southeastern China's Fujian province to move to the United States only a few weeks prior, according to Illinois' News-Gazette newspaper.

Christensen's girlfriend assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation in securing his arrest by wearing a wire and he was arrested on his birthday, June 30, 2017. But Christensen will not change his plea of "not guilty". More witnesses are expected to testify.

Zhang's father, brother and boyfriend of eight years sat in the front row of the courtroom.

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