Illinois man gets life in prison for killing Chinese scholar

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — A former University of Illinois doctoral student is facing life in prison for the rape and murder of a 26-year-old scholar from China whom he abducted from a bus stop near campus in 2017, after a federal jury said Thursday that it failed to agree on sentencing him to death.

The jurors returned their decision against Brendt Christensen, 30, on their second day of deliberations. The same jurors took less than 90 minutes to convict Christensen last month in the killing of Yingying Zhang. Prosecutors and Zhang’s family had pushed for the death penalty , but a jury decision on that had to be unanimous. If even one juror opposed, then the life sentence was applied.

Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, but Christensen was prosecuted under federal law. If he had been sentenced to death, he would have been executed in neighboring Indiana.

Prosecutors said Christensen raped, choked and stabbed Zhang before beating her to death with a bat and decapitating her. Christensen has never revealed what he did with Zhang’s remains.

Her family, who traveled from China to Peoria, Illinois, for the trial had hoped he might explain in court where he left her, but Christensen’s lawyers didn’t call him to testify.

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