Man who killed a Chinese student in Illinois escapes capital punishment

In the U.S. state of Illinois, the dramatic close to a brutal kidnapping and murder case has made headlines around the world.

Brendt Christensen will spend the rest of his life in jail, spared of the death penalty.

It is his punishment for what he did to Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying back in 2017.

Arriving at Peoria Federal Courthouse one final time, Brendt Christensen knew there was a chance the jury would decide his fate this day.

And that it did. Having already found Christensen guilty of kidnapping and killing Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying, the jury had to decide whether Christensen would spend the rest of his life behind bars without parole or sentence him to death.

After more than eight hours of deliberation, the jury announced they could not reach a unanimous decision. So the lesser sentence was imposed. Christensen’s life would be spared.

In the gallery, Christensen’s family hugged and wept in relief.

While Zhang’s family sat in silence.

The U.S. state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011.

But as this was being tried in a Federal court, a death sentence could be imposed – but only if jurors unanimously agreed.

Christensen will now spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

Zhang Yingying disappeared on June 9, 2017.  She was last seen getting into Christensen’s black Saturn Astra.


Video footage proved key for investigators. As did the cooperation of Christensen’s former girlfriend Terra Bullis.

Her decision to wear a wiretap allowed the FBI to make recordings of Christensen boasting about how he killed Zhang.

Zhang Yingying’s disappearance just over two years ago generated global headlines.

Although this chapter now comes to a close, for Zhang’s family, the pain of Christensen’s actions is not relieved.

Zhang’s body was never recovered.

Christensen will now begin his life sentence. He will die in prison.

For Zhang’s family, their loss remains immeasurable.