In a shocking courtroom revelation, the attorney for Brendt Christensen, a former teaching assistant at the University of IL, admitted that his own client had kidnapped and killed a young Chinese visiting scholar.
Her fiance said they talked on the phone or through social media every day but eventually was not able to get ahold of her anymore.
Meanwhile, the prosecution's lead attorney, Eugene Miller, said that on June 9th, 2017, Zhang missed a connecting bus at a U of I campus bus stop, on her way to sign a new apartment lease, when surveillance video showed her getting into an SUV, which investigators determined belonged to Christensen.
Taseff said the trial will be an effort to spare Christensen, 29, the death penalty.
A Chinese scholar who has been missing for two years was kidnapped and killed by a former U.S. graduate student, the man's lawyer admitted Wednesday at the opening of his death penalty trial.
He said Christensen was obsessed with Bundy, who killed dozens of women in 1970s, and other serial killers.
In his opening statement, Eugene Miller, attorney for the USA, told the jury about Zhang's time at the University, how she was continuing her research, planning to get a doctorate, marry her then fiance and eventually go back to China to teach. He told her he was an undercover police officer and needed to ask her some questions.
Prosecutors allege Christensen took advantage of Zhang's small stature and lack of English fluency after seeing her by a bus stop, pulling up and successfully talking her into his auto.
"[Christensen] said she fought for her life", Miller told the jury. Taseff said all of these issues created the "perfect storm" on June 9, 2017, when Christensen "did the unthinkable".
Later, the tall and muscular Christensen bound Zhang and got her into his apartment, where, Miller said, he raped Zhang in his bedroom and began stabbing her, blood splattering around the room. Taseff alleges that Christensen was lying when he told the informant there were 12 other victims.
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Under questioning by investigators, Christensen admitted giving Zhang a ride, but said he dropped her off in a residential area a few blocks from where he picked her up.
Prosecutors intend to present secret audio recordings of Christensen admitting to and boasting about the kidnapping. Christensen cut off her head and disposed of the found, which has never been, the prosecutor told jurors.
The federal death-penalty case is the first in IL since the state struck capital punishment from its books on grounds death-penalty processes were too error-prone. Christensen could face the death penalty, if convicted in federal court of murder in the course of a kidnapping. He held it as a strategy by the defense to avoid death penalty.
Defense attorney Tesseff pushed back on these assertions, saying his client was a heavy drinker and was drunk when he made those statements. He later pleaded not guilty to kidnapping resulting in death.
"We planned to get married that October", Hou told prosecutors.
He also mentioned that statement Christensen made about killing others, saying his client was clearly in a drunken stupor at the time and that there is no evidence he ever killed anyone else, including 12 people other than Zhang.
Christensen was arrested on June 30, 2017, his birthday, after his girlfriend wore a wire for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a bid to capture incriminating statements by Christensen.
Zhang's father and younger brother sat in the courtroom wearing headsets to follow the translation of speeches. More witnesses are expected to testify.
Zhang's body was never found and one challenge for prosecutors is to prove to jurors she is dead.
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