PEORIA, Ill. (WAND) - In a plea for closure, the family of Yingying Zhang is asking Brendt Christensen to reveal where she is.
Christensen was sentenced to life and prison Thursday without possibility of release, after jurors remained divided over sentencing him to death. He was convicted earlier this summer for the kidnapping and murder of Zhang.
After the formal sentencing, Zhang's father spoke with the media.
"Now that the trial is over and the jury has made its decision, we ask the defendant to unconditionally tell us what he knows about Yingying's location," said Ronggao Zhang. "If you have any humanity left in your soul, please help end our torment. Please let us bring Yingying home."
Christensen's federal trial in Peoria came to an end Wednesday with the jury's decision. At least one juror dabbed at her eyes with a tissue while Judge James Shadid read their jury forms. Yingying Zhang's family sat quietly.
During a 4 p.m. formal sentencing hearing, Judge James Shadid asked Christensen if he wanted to make a statement.
"No thank you," Christensen said.
In his own remarks, Shadid described Christensen as a selfish man who will die in prison.
"You could have said whatever you wanted to say (at this hearing)," Shadid said. "Yet today, you could not muster a simple 'I'm sorry.'"
Shadid praised the law enforcement and witnesses who helped catch and prosecute Christensen.
Shadid also fined Christensen $250,000 for each of his three federal counts, a move meant to keep Christensen from earning money off the case.
Ronggao Zhang's statement added that Christensen needs to feel pain for what he has caused in prison.
"We understand that one or more of the jurors could not make the judgement that the defendant deserved the death penalty in this case," he said. "While we do not agree with that result, however, we accept that he will spend the rest of his life in prison, which still reflects our loss in a meaningful way. We hope that every day he spends in prison he feels the pain and suffering that we feel for the loss of Yingying."
Deliberations began Wednesday afternoon over a week after the sentencing phase began on July 8. Closing arguments from the prosecution and defense finished Wednesday morning.
Christensen kidnapped Zhang from the University of Illinois campus on June 9, 2017. She was seen on security video getting into a black Saturn Astra.
During trial, recordings captured on an FBI wire by Christensen's 2017 girlfriend were played. In them, he could be heard saying he forced Zhang into his apartment before sexually assaulting, choking and stabbing her, then using a baseball bat to beat her and decapitating her.
The jury found Christensen guilty of Zhang's death on June 24. The trial leading to that verdict lasted nine days.
During the sentencing phase, emotional testimony came from both the Zhang family and Christensen's family. Christensen's father said through tears he was sorry Brendt Christensen was "the cause of (the Zhang family's) pain". Zhang's parents described the pain of losing their child.
The jury had to establish Christensen's adult age, intent in Yingying Zhang's death and decide if the government proved at least one of three statutory aggravating factors. Those factors include:
- That Zhang's death occurred during the commission of another crime, which in this case is kidnapping
- That the crime was heinous or cruel in the manner in which it was committed
- That Christensen went through substantial planning or meditation before killing Zhang
The jury then weighed aggravated and mitigating factors from both the prosecution and defense before reaching its conclusion.