On Thursday, after the jury was unable to reach an agreement on whether to impose a death sentence, Zhang Yingying’s defendant, Brend Christensen, was sentenced to life in prison. On June 9, 2017, Zhang Yingying disappeared after a black car near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stopped to pick her up. The defendant has not revealed the whereabouts of Zhang Yingying’s body.
A jury in the US District Court for the District of Peoria, Illinois, ruled last month that 29-year-old Christensen was charged with the murder of Zhang Yingying. The same jury consisting of five women and seven men then entered the sentencing phase.
Zhang Yingying, 26, is a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Life imprisonment with no parole
The jury told the judge on Thursday that they could not agree on life imprisonment or the death penalty and that the defendant was in life imprisonment and could not be commuted or released on parole.
When Federal District Judge James Shadid read the sentencing verdict, Christensen lowered his head and closed his eyes, smiling and sighing. A member of the legal team of Christensen embraced his mother. Christensen embraced and thanked his lawyer.
Although the state of Illinois has abolished the death penalty, the case is a federal case under the US Kidnapping Act and he could have been sentenced to death.
During the end of the sentencing phase on Wednesday, the prosecutor described how Christensen took Zhang Yingying to his apartment and raped her there, then hit her with a baseball bat. And beheaded her.
Three days after the murder, the former Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois purchased a sewer dredging agent and a garbage bag. The use of these items is not known at this time. The defendant has never revealed the whereabouts of Zhang Yingying’s body.
Christensen’s team of lawyers admitted that their client had killed Zhang Yingying after the trial, but asked the jury to consider the defendant’s lack of criminal record, alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental problems.
The death penalty must be made by the jury
Cheng Shaoming, a member of the American Bar Association and a well-known Chinese criminal defense lawyer, told VOA that US federal law stipulates that sentencing judgments involving the death penalty must be made by a jury rather than a judge. Only 12 jurors can unanimously determine that the offender can be sentenced to death. .
“The biggest problem with Zhang Yingying’s case is that two of the 12 jury members think that he is mentally ill or have other problems, so they did not agree to the death penalty. If the 12 jury members do not reach an agreement, they cannot be sentenced to death,” Cheng Shaoming Say.
He also said that many states in the United States have already abolished the death penalty. The state with the death penalty is also very cautious about the use of the death penalty. All death sentences must be reported to the US Supreme Court for a review of the death penalty, and this procedure is protracted.
According to data from the US Death Penalty Information Center, 21 states have abolished the death penalty, including Illinois where the case was located. At the state level, 25 people were executed in 2018; at the federal level, the federal judicial system and the US military system had 62 pending prisoners, but since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, the US government has only executed a total of Three people.
“After a death sentence is given, you can appeal, you can also reverse the case. The whole process is very long to execute the death penalty. It may take seven or eight years to see the final result. It is also a great mental burden to the family members,” said Cheng Shaoming. .
At the press conference after the sentencing judgment, Zhang Yingying’s mother cried, and her father read a Chinese statement asking the defendant to unconditionally tell Zhang Yingying’s whereabouts.
“We understand that one or more jurors cannot make a decision on the death penalty for the defendant. Although we disagree with this result, we can accept that the offender will spend the rest of the life in prison, which will make up for our trauma in a certain sense. ,”He says.
In the sentencing phase, Zhang Yingying’s mother testified that she could not see her daughter marrying her boyfriend as planned.
“My daughter didn’t wear a wedding dress,” she said. “I really wanted to be a grandmother.”
Federal assistant prosecutor James Nelson told the jury on the first day of the sentencing phase that Christensen not only brutally killed Zhang Yingying, but also hid her body and deprived her family of her the opportunity for a formal funeral. Christensen did not realize that she had a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wire, and the FBI had begun investigating the disappearance of the victim.
Later that day, Christensen described in detail how he raped and killed the chapter on his way home.
The next day, Christensen was arrested by the police.
Earlier this month, his father, Mike Christensen, stood on the witness stand and thought that his son was facing the death penalty, and he burst into tears, saying that his son “can do too much.”
Defense lawyers also tried to prove that family alcoholism may be one of the reasons for his own problems. Defense lawyers said that Christensen’s mother and several other immediate family members were alcoholics.
Songzi Li/ Editing Manager
Translation by Philip Park