The remains of a Chinese scholar who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in central Illinois in 2017 may never be recovered, the Associated Press reports.
That’s according to a court filing unsealed Friday in the case of Brendt Christensen, who was convicted earlier this week of kidnapping and killing Yingying Zhang in 2017.
Lawyers for Christensen, a former University of Illinois doctoral student, admitted in their opening statement that he killed Zhang, then a 26-year-old visiting scholar; defense attorneys said Christensen had become obsessed with dark thoughts, experimented with BDSM and abused alcohol, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Christensen admitted to his now-ex-wife that he sexually assaulted, tortured and killed Zhang: he choked her, beat her with a bat, stabbed her and then decapitated her.
“Although he raped her, this was not about sex. Though he tortured her, this was not about BDSM,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller said during the trial. “This was always about murder.”
Miller said Christensen viewed Zhang as “an object” so he could act out his desire to kill.
Security cameras show Zhang got into Christensen’s car after she missed a bus while she was on her way to view a new apartment in the Champaign-Urbana area. Another woman reported that Christensen had posed as an undercover police officer earlier in the day.
“It’s chilling to think about the fear and panic she must have felt in that car when she realized he wasn’t a police officer, he wasn’t taking her (where she wanted to go) and she was locked in that car,” Miller said.
After he was arrested, Christensen offered to plead guilty and disclose where he left Zhang’s remains in exchange for a life sentence.
Authorities contemplated the offer, but the deal fell apart because it was not going to be possible to locate and recover all of Zhang’s remains.
Following the announcement of the verdict, Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, read a statement outside of the federal courthouse in Peoria. He thanked “many people in China, America and across the world who have reached out to us in friendship to support us.”
“We have missed Yingying tremendously in the past two years,” he said. “As of today, we still could not imagine how we could live the rest of our lives without her. There is no language that can describe our pain and suffering. We hope and believe that this trial will eventually bring justice to Yingying and us. Our wish has always been to find Yingying and bring her home. We will not give up.”
Christensen could face the death penalty. The jury that convicted him will decide his fate in early July.
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[Feature Photo: Yingying Zhang/Handout]