US student may face death penalty for killing Chinese scholar, Latest World News - The New Paper

US student may face death penalty for killing Chinese scholar

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WASHINGTON : A former graduate student at the University of Illinois was found guilty in the kidnapping and killing of a visiting Chinese scholar.

Brendt Christensen could now face the death penalty, with sentencing hearings due to begin next month.

A federal jury deliberated for less than two hours before convicting the 29-year-old, whose lawyer admitted was responsible for Ms Zhang Yingying's death.

Christensen kidnapped Ms Zhang in June 2017 at a bus stop near the campus in Champaign, luring her into a car before choking and beating her with a baseball bat, stabbing her, and decapitating her body to dispose of it. Her body has never been found.

The trial generated enormous interest in the Chinese community in Illinois, and China. Beijing authorities sent consular representatives and the victim's relatives flew in from China to attend the hearing.

Ms Zhang, who was 26, was visiting the University of Illinois to conduct research, while Christensen was a graduate student instructor in physics.

The court listened to secret recordings made by an ex-girlfriend of Christensen in which he described in detail how he sexually assaulted and killed Ms Zhang. But defence lawyers expressed doubts about Christensen's claims in the FBI recordings, in which he also described Ms Zhang as his thirteenth victim, despite no evidence to support it.

The defence said Christensen had mental health and alcohol issues.

Ms Zhang's family also filed a civil complaint against the accused and against two university social workers in whom Christensen had confided. - AFP