The 29-year-old could face the death penalty for his murder of Zhang, whose body remains missing since her disappearance in June 2017. Christensen’s offer came to light in a 17-page filing on Tuesday, a day after his conviction. According to his lawyers, Christensen had offered to plead guilty and accept a life sentence in addition to disclosing the location of Zhang’s body, the Chicago Tribune reported.
A daily dose of Asian America's essential stories, in under 5 minutes.
Get our collection of Asian America's most essential stories to your inbox daily for free.
Unsure? Check out our Newsletter Archive.
Driving a black Saturn Astra, Christensen abducted Zhang near a bus stop in Urbana on June 9, 2017. At the time, the 26-year-old scholar was supposed to sign an apartment lease. On June 30, his 28th birthday, Christensen was arrested after authorities coursed through records of everyone who owned that make and model of vehicle in Illinois. His former girlfriend, Terra Bullis, also wore a wire for the FBI to capture incriminating statements.
In one of the recordings, Christensen detailed how he had beat, raped, and choked Zhang before splitting her head open with a baseball bat. He then decapitated her.
“She’s never going to be found,” he said. “She’s gone forever.”
Christensen, who visited online threads titled “Perfect Abduction Fantasy” and “Planning a Kidnapping” prior to Zhang’s disappearance, reportedly offered to reveal her location after his arrest.
On Wednesday, Zhang’s family said that they knew about the offer, but have doubts about it as Christensen “had lied so many times in the past.”
In 2011, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish capital punishment under Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who described it as the “most difficult decision”
he had made at the time, according to NPR
. However, Christensen is being charged in a federal court with a federal crime, and federal prosecutors can seek such punishment regardless of the defendant’s residence or where the crime was committed.
Christensen will stand on the death penalty phase of his trial under the same jurors beginning July 8. This phase potentially lasts for weeks.