PEORIA, Ill. (WAND) - Deliberations are underway in the sentencing of convicted kidnapper Brendt Christensen.
Jurors retired from the courtroom around 1:35 Wednesday afternoon.
Within two hours, the jurors sent notes to Judge James Shadid asking three questions: Whether, when considering Christensen's future danger, they should consider it only within a prison (the judge said yes), whether they should list the number of jurors who believed the defense had proven given mitigating factors on jury forms (the judge said yes), and whether they should begin weighing mitigating factors "at this stage" (the judge referred them to prior jury instructions.
Closing arguments in the sentencing portion of Christensen's trial began Wednesday morning.
"The defendant didn't kill Yingying Zhang because he was a drunk; the defendant killed Yingying Zhang for sport," said attorney James Nelson as he began the prosecution's closing argument. "There is only one just sentence for a crime (like this), and that is a sentence of death."
Before closing arguments, Judge James Shadid delivered lengthy instructions to jurors. When they begin deliberating, jurors will first have to find that Christensen was 18 or older when he kidnapped Yingying Zhang and that he acted with intent.
Jurors will then have to decide whether Christensen's crime meets at least one statutory aggravating factor: that the death happened during the commission of a crime, that the crime was committed in a heinous or cruel manner, or that Christensen committed the crime after substantial planning.
If those thresholds are met, jurors will go on to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors.
Among aggravating factors argued by prosecutors: the impact of Zhang's death on her family and others, Christensen's lack of remorse, Zhang's vulnerability because of her size and language skills and Christensen's obstruction of investigation by lying to authorities and hiding or destroying Zhang's body.
Shadid listed mitigating factors the defense plans to present, including: Christensen's lack of a criminal record, his family history of mental illness and alcoholism, Christensen's capacity to be caring to others, the fact that Christensen sought help from counselors and others, his good behavior so far in jail and the pain his execution would cause his family.
In her closing argument, defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock sought to paint Christensen as a whole person, one who struggled for years with mental health and alcohol abuse.
She also encouraged jurors to remain true to their individual consciences and judgement.
"Does someone deserve to die who went to counseling and tells about (violent) thoughts?" Pollock asked jurors rhetorically. "You don't execute someone who does that ... who discloses something to people who could help."
In a lengthy rebuttal, prosecutor Eugene Miller argued that explanations of Christensen's kidnapping and killing of Yingying Zhang fall short.
"Evil does exist ... and what the defendant did to Yingying was evil," Miller said. "There's no other credible explanation."
Nelson addressed those mitigating factors in his remarks, pointing out that many people deal with the same problems daily.
Christensen was convicted of kidnapping and killing visiting UI Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.
If the jurors do not unanimously agree on the death penalty, he will go to prison for life.
The same jurors took about an hour and a half to convict him at trial.
Zhang's body was never found, and Christensen has not said what he did with the body.
WAND News will be in Peoria with coverage throughout the day.