Christensen was given a life sentence for killing Zhang

A man has escaped the death penalty for raping and killing a Chinese scholar

WTTW reports that Brendt Christensen has been given a life sentence for killing Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.

26-year-old Yingying Zhang was last seen on at the University of Illinois on Friday 9 June. The FBI had since turned the investigation into an agency national priority.

Zhang’s DNA were found inside Christensen’s apartment where he raped, beat, tortured and decapitated her. The information came from Christensen’s girlfriend who had been cooperating with the FBI and was wearing a wire.

“You could hear the pride dripping from his voice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Nelson said of the tape. “He was delighted. There was no remorse.”

Prosecutors had pushed for the death penalty as Christensen had kidnapped and tortured Zhang in a “heinous, cruel or depraved” manner. The prosecution team argued that his crime was pre-meditated.

However, Christensen’s defense team argued that his family had a history of mental illness and cited his own alcohol and substance abuse.

After two days of deliberation, the 12-person jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty case. U.S. District Court Judge James Shadid then gave Christensen a life sentence after he called him out for his “complete and total lack of remorse”.

“This inexplicable act of violence has taken a toll on so many,” Shadid said. He went on to say that Christensen acted out his own “selfish fantasies with no regard for anyone but himself.”

He told Christensen that mercy shown by the jurors was “reflective of their humanity rather than your character.”

When the jury’s announcement was read out, Christensen smiled whilst Zhang’s family showed no reaction.

“For his unthinkable acts, he’s being held accountable,” U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois John Milhiser said. “He will serve the rest of his life in prison and he will die in prison as he should for these horrendous acts.”

Christensen was convicted for making false statements to the FBI and will be forced to pay a $250,000 fine.

Zhang’s family did not agree with the result and now only want to find her remains. “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,” Zhang’s father Ronggao told media through an interpreter. “If you have any humanity left in your soul, please help end our torment.”