News Local/State

Christensen Trial Continues With 3rd Day Of Testimony

Brendt Christensen

Brendt Christensen, on trial in Peoria for the 2017 kidnapping and murder of U of I visiting scholar Yingying Zhang. Macon County Jail

UPDATE: In an unexpected development Friday morning, public defenders representing Brendt Christensen asked the judge in his kidnapping-murder trial to disregard the notion that Christensen may have killed other victims.

The request prompted U.S. District Judge James Shadid to recess the court for ten minutes. 

The defense request comes in response to the suggestion by FBA Agent Anthony Manganaro during testimony on Thursday, that there was room to think that Christensen had committed other crimes beyond the kidnapping and murder of U of I visiting scholar Yingying Zhang. Manganaro said the additional crimes could include the 12 other murders Christensen claimed to have committed in a conversation recorded secretly by his girlfriend for FBI investigators.

The prosecution argued against the defense request, saying the jury deserves “the facts”.

But defense attorneys say prosecutors have failed to provide any evidence to prove Christensen’s claim.

Judge Shadid agreed the prosecution had not proven that Christensen had committed other crimes, and said that he would work with attorneys from both sides on language instructing the jury to disregard any claims of other crimes Christensen is not charged with. (This update was revised at 5:44 PM, to clarify the judge's plans for jury instructions. -- JM)

ORIGINAL STORY: A federal jury in Peoria is hearing the third day of testimony Friday in the capital murder trial of Brendt Christensen. On Thursday, the jury saw video of his initial interview with police. That video was a point of concern for the defense.

Christensen is accused of kidnapping and killing 26-year-old University of Illinois visiting scholar, Yingying Zhang of China in June of 2017. 

 During the interview with FBI agent Anthony Managanaro, and lead investigator in the case, and a U of I Detective, recorded just days after Zhang’s disappearance, Christensen told the investigators he had picked up a distraught Asian woman, who was late and had missed the bus at a campus bus stop. He said he could not understand her, took a wrong turn and she “freaked out.” Christensen said he let her out of the car then, but could not tell police where. After about 40 minutes, Christensen said he needed an attorney and invoked his right to silence.

Christensen’s defense team then moved for a mistrial. They told U.S. District Judge James Shadid that allowing the jury to see that part of the video had a negative inference, and that Christensen’s invoking of his constitutional rights should not be held against him. The judge denied that motion.

The trial was set to continue Friday with additional prosecution witnesses.  Public defenders for Christensen admitted he killed Yingying Zhang in their opening arguments. But they say the jury needs to know all the details of the case before considering a verdict and a sentence.

If Christensen is convicted, he could face the death penalty, for a federal conviction of kidnapping that results in a homicide.