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Key Witnesses Testify In Christensen Trial

Yingying Zhang

Yingying Zhang. The University of Illinois visiting scholar from China disappeared in 2017, and Brendt Christensen is on trial for her kidnapping and murder. University of Illinois Police

An FBI forensic expert told jurors that DNA evidence indicates that University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang was inside the bedroom of Brendt Christensen, who is accused of killing her.

The evidence includes DNA from a bloodstain found on the underside of a piece of carpet taken by investigators from Christensen’s bedroom. It was successfully identified, despite signs that the carpet had been extensively spot cleaned. 

FBI Forensic Examiner Amanda Bakker testified Thursday for the prosecution about the DNA evidence, at Christensen’s kidnapping-murder trial in U.S. District Court in Peoria.

Bakker said the DNA found on the underside of Christensen’s carpet was most likely from blood, because its location meant there was no real opportunity for it to get their by touch or transfer. Bakker described the DNA as “97-Octilion times more likely Zhang’s DNA than anyone else’s.” 97-Octillion is 97,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (27 zeros).  

The trial was set to resume Thursday with Christensen’s former girlfriend, Terra Bullis on the stand. She secretly recorded conversations with him for the FBI, including one on June 29, 2017, when they attended a memorial walk for Yingying Zhang. That’s when he offered the graphic and chillingly casual account of how he killed Zhang.

Prosecutors are expected to continue to walk Bullis through the conversation in those recordings on Thursday. On Wednesday, court recessed for the day just after the jury heard phone and text conversations from June 23, 2017 when Christensen told Bullis about picking up Zhang and giving her a ride.

Bullis paused a couple of times during her testimony to wipe tears from her eyes. She said she cared for Christensen, but recorded their conversations for the FBI because she also cared about the fact the Zhang was missing. She said the combination of those feelings was still overwhelming to her. Bullis will face cross-examination from Christensen’s defense team on Thursday. That will likely cover the nature of her relationship with Christensen, which she described Wednesday as dominant-submissive.

          Judge James Shadid says he expects witness testimony could conclude by the end of the day Thursday, with closing arguments on Friday, and jury deliberations to begin by Monday. If found guilty, Christensen could be sentenced to death.