News Local/State

Prosecution Testimony Focuses On Christensen’s Online Activities

Entrance to the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Peoria.

Entrance to the Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse in downtown Peoria, where the Brendt Christensen trial is being held. Tanya Koonce/Illinois Public Media

Testimony resumes Tuesday morning in Peoria, in the capital murder trial of Brendt Christensen. Prosecution witnesses are continuing to describe their investigation of the disappearance of University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, and the man they believe kidnapped and killed her.

On Monday, prosecutors called three FBI agents, a U of I police detective and two Illinois State Police crime scene investigators to the witness stand. All had worked on the 2017 Yingying Zhang disappearance, now considered a murder case.

FBI forensics expert William O’Sullivan gave details about Christensen’s Internet searches for materials related to serial killers and abductions, and his chat with a woman via a fetish social media site about the possibility of trying a so-called consensual kidnapping. The act was to involve putting the woman in a large duffle bag, of a type that Christensen actually bought shortly before Zhang's disappearance. 

Despite the information obtained in an examination of his phone, O'Sullivan said much of Christensen's phone browsing history had been deleted, and efforts to recover his location data proved fruitless.

Testimony also touched on Christensen’s claim in a secretly recorded conversation that he had killed 12 other women.

Christensen’s defense attorneys pushed back on that last point, noting that FBI Agent Andrew Huckstadt testified that they could not link Christensen to anyone on a database list of missing women in Wisconsin from 2008 to the time of his arrest. Christensen studied at the University of Wisconsin, prior to coming to the University of Illinois.

Christensen’s defense team focused on such points, as they continued looking for opportunities to poke holes in the prosecution’s case and create doubt.

Still scheduled to testify for the prosecution this week --- an FBI DNA expert, and the former girlfriend who wore an FBI wire to record Christensen. Testimony is scheduled to resume around 9 AM at the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Peoria.

Christensen faces a possible death penalty, if convicted of the kidnapping and murder charges in U.S. District Court. Defense attorneys admitted Christensen's guilt in their opening statement, but are questioning the prosecution's description of events in an effort to avoid capital punishment.