Trial of Missing Chinese Scholar: Defense attorney says Brendt Christensen killed Zhang Yingying
Updated 17:32, 09-Jul-2019
A shocking admission of guilt in the kidnapping trial of Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying. The attorney for defendant Brendt Christensen told the court his client did indeed kill Zhang. But Christensen will NOT change his plea of 'not guilty'. CGTN's Dan Williams has the story from Peoria, Illinois.
As the family of Zhang Yingying arrived at Peoria's Federal Courthouse, few could have predicted the drama that would follow during the opening statements of this trial. Brendt Christiansen, seen arriving in this prison van, 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 9th, 2017, in nearby Urbana, Illinois.
But in his opening statement, the defense attorney for Christiansen, George Taseff, told the court that Christiansen had indeed killed Yingying. 
Saying '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.'
But despite that admission, Christensen will not be changing his 'not guilty' plea. Taseff 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.
DAN WILLIAMS PEORIA, ILLINOIS "In their opening statement, Prosecutors spent 45 minutes outlining their case, detailing to the court how Christiansen allegedly kidnapped, raped and then killed Yingying. Prosecutors also revealed they have a recording of Christiansen boasting that Yingying was his 13th victim. Although Christensen won't face further charges at this trial, the defense deny that allegation."
For family and friends of Yingying, the admission of guilt from the defense team was difficult to take.
KIM TEE ZHANG FAMILY FRIEND "I'm kind of shocked and disbelieved and angry at the same time. I think the mother took it very hard and she was a bad situation right now."
This is a trial that demands answers as to what exactly happened to Yingying just over two years ago.
Today provided some answers with hints of more harrowing details likely to be revealed in the days and weeks ahead.
Dan Williams CGTN Peoria, Illinois.