Death penalty sought for man charged with kidnapping, death of Chinese scholar in US
The US government filed on Friday a notice of intent on the website of the Department of Justice to seek death penalty against Brendt A. Christensen of Champaign, Il. charged with kidnapping resulting in death of visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying, Xinhua reported.
28-year-old Christensen is charged with kidnapping resulting in death of visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) on June 9, 2017.
The filing follows the decision and directive by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek the death penalty against Christensen.
The US government said the circumstances of the offense of kidnapping resulting in death, as charged in count one of the superseding indictment returned on October 3, 2017, are such that, in the event the defendant is convicted of committing the crime, a sentence of death is justified.
The superseding indictment alleges that Christensen held Zhang Yingying on June 9, 2017, and used a cellular telephone and Saturn Astra motor vehicle to commit and in furtherance of the commission of the offense; and the kidnapping resulted in the death of Zhang.
The notice to seek a sentence of death includes intent factors that allege Christensen acted with intent against the victim; and that his intentional acts of violence resulted in the victim's death.
The notice sets forth statutory aggravating factors including that Zhang's death occurred during the commission of a kidnapping; that the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, which involved torture or serious physical abuse; and that Christensen committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation.
The notice also alleges non-statutory aggravating factors that were not previously asserted, including victim impact evidence related to Zhang's loss and the impact of her death upon her family, friends, and co-workers; the future dangerousness of the defendant; his lack of remorse; other serious acts of violence allegedly committed by Christensen; the vulnerability of the victim due to her small stature and limited ability to communicate in English; and the defendant's alleged attempt to obstruct the investigation by making false statements to investigators, destroying or concealing the victim's remains, and sanitizing the crime scene.
UIUC visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying, 26-year-old, went missing on June 9 after she got into a black Saturn Astra about five blocks from where she got off a bus on her way to an apartment complex to sign a lease.
Christensen was arrested on June 30 after being caught on tape pointing out people he described as "ideal victims" during a vigil in Zhang's honor. On July 5, US Magistrate Judge Eric I. Long ordered that Christensen remain detained in the custody of the US Marshals Service pending trial.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the UIUC Police Department jointly conducted the investigation.