Federal prosecutors are seeking death penalty against Brendt Christensen, the University of Illinois Ph.D. candidate who is accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing YingYing Zhang, a visiting scholar from Nanping, China, last year.
United States prosecutors filed the notice on Friday in central Illinois with the U.S. District Court, according to NBC Chicago, citing that the alleged killing of the 26-year-old victim cruelly involved torture.
Zhang’s body has yet to be found, but police said they have evidence pointing out that the victim is dead.
The 28-year-old was reportedly arrested by the police in June 2017. Upon investigation, federal authorities discovered links in his computer search history that involve abduction and other sexual fetish websites in connection with the disappearance of the Chinese scholar.
Zhang has been missing from the Urbana-Champaign campus since June 9. She was last seen boarding a black Saturna Astra car on CCTV, which soon later confirmed to be Christensen’s car.
He reportedly said in his initial statement after being asked to come in for interview that he was in his home playing video games or sleeping during the day when Zhang disappeared. But his testimony changed when authorities found matching details after reviewing the CCTV footage on June 14.
Christensen told the investigators that he was driving around when he noticed a “distressed” Asian woman. He then offered her a ride, but claimed that he made a wrong turn that made his passenger panicked and was eventually dropped somewhere.
He was later caught on tape during an audio surveillance conducted by the FBI on June 29 at a campus walk and vigil for Zhang, where he described his “ideal victim.” Christensen allegedly can be heard admitting to the crime and revealing the sickening details on how the woman fought back as he held her against her will.
Christensen, who pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to be on trial on February 27. The death penalty, according to Chicago Tribune, would require the approval of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It would mean that the trial could be delayed for months as prosecutors seek the penalty.
In the notice, prosecutors said that the suspect “is likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future that would constitute a continuing and serious threat to the lives and safety of others.”