Defense attorney says Brendt Christensen killed Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying
Updated 22:41, 13-Jun-2019
Dan Williams

It is not often that a defense attorney turns to a jury and admits his client killed the victim, but that is exactly what happened at Peoria Federal Court. 

George Tesseff is the defense attorney for Brendt Christensen, who had pleaded 'not guilty' to charges of kidnapping that led to the death of Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old Chinese scholar who went missing on June 9, 2017, in nearby Urbana, Illinois.   

But in his opening statement, Tesseff told the court that Christiansen had indeed killed Zhang. "Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang, and nothing we say or do during this phase of the trial is intended to sidestep or deny that Brendt Christensen was responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang," said Tesseff. 

The family of Zhang Yingying depart the courthouse. /CGTN Photo

The family of Zhang Yingying depart the courthouse. /CGTN Photo

But despite that admission, Christensen will not be changing his 'not guilty' plea. 

Tesseff told the court that Christensen is "on trial for his life" and that there are several factual issues that must be debated before sentencing.

Federal Prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty for Christiansen. 

In their opening statement, the prosecutors spent 45 minutes outlining their case, detailing to the court how Christiansen allegedly kidnapped, raped, choked and stabbed Zhang in his bedroom. Prosecutors then said that Christensen then dragged Zhang into his bathroom, pummeled her with a baseball bat before decapitating her. 

Media gather outside Peoria Federal Courthouse. /CGTN Photo

Media gather outside Peoria Federal Courthouse. /CGTN Photo

Prosecutors also revealed they have a recording of Christiansen boasting that Zhang was his 13th victim. Although Christensen won't face further charges at this trial, the defense deny that allegation. 

At one point, Christensen wiped away a tear from his left eye. That came when his attorney was describing how Christensen's life was spinning out of control. 

This is a trial that demands answers as to what exactly happened to Zhang just over two years ago. 

Today provided some answers, but with hints of more harrowing details likely to be revealed in the days and weeks ahead.