Day 8: Ex-wife takes the stand; prosecution rests case in Chinese scholar’s slaying trial

PEORIA, Ill.  — Federal prosecutors have rested their case in the trial of a former University of Illinois student who could get the death penalty if convicted of killing a 26-year-old Chinese scholar.

Brendt Christensen's lawyers called his ex-wife as a witness Friday. Michelle Zortman was asked about her ex-husband's drug and alcohol use. When asked why she still cared about him after finding out he killed Zhang, her voice shook as she responded.

"He was the biggest person in my life for more than a decade. It's very difficult to cut ties like that," she said.

Under cross-examination she was asked about a large bloodstain that appeared on the couple's bed while she was on a trip to Wisconsin. The 29-year-old Christensen had told her he had a nosebleed.

Christensen watched her testify, even appearing to smile. Which differs from his reaction while his ex-girlfriend, who dated while he was still married to Zortman, testified Wednesday and Thursday. Christensen barely looked up as jurors heard from her and listened to the conversations she recorded while she wore a wire for the FBI.

Christensen was accused of luring Zhang into his car on June 9, 2017 and killing her at his apartment. Prosecutors said she was raped, choked and decapitated. Her body was never found.

Christensen's lawyers told jurors that he killed Zhang, but they dispute some details about why he did it. They're hoping they can persuade the jury to reject a death sentence if he's convicted.

The defense made two more motions for a mistrial on Friday, but both were denied.

Closing  arguments begin Monday.

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