Day 1: Attorney says Brendt Christensen responsible for death of Chinese U of I scholar

PEORIA, Ill. — There was surprise announcement during opening statements at the trial of Brendt Cristensen, who is accused in the 2017 abduction and murder of Yingying Zhang, a visiting scholar from China at University of Illinois.

“Brendt Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang,” defense attorney George Taseff told the jury.

Taseff's remarks followed a blistering 45-minute outline by federal prosecutors of the physical evidence they have, even though Zhang's body was never found. That evidence includes DNA found in his apartment and wiretap recordings where Christensen allegedly admitted to the murder.

Prosecutors allege Christensen posed as an undercover policeman to lure 26-year-old Zhang into his car. She had just missed a bus on her way to sign an apartment lease off campus in Champaign's sister city Urbana.

Prosecutors told the jury Christensen eventually bound Zhang and took her to his apartment where he raped, choked and stabbed her in his bedroom. They said Christensen later pummeled her in the head with a baseball bat in his bathroom before decapitating her.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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