Suspect Brendt Christensen. (MACON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)
On Friday, jurors in a murder trial listened to secretly recorded audio in which the defendant told his girlfriend that he killed Zhang Yingying, a Chinese scholar who has been missing for two years.
He also bragged about her being his 13th victim. No evidence has been found with relation to other murders.
On June 29, 2017, Brendt Christensen, a former graduate student at the University of Illinois accused of murdering Zhang, attended a memorial event for the missing Chinese woman. The conversation was recorded by his girlfriend, who was wearing a wire for the FBI, the Champaign News-Gazette reported.
"I just wanted to see how many people were here," Christensen was recorded telling his girlfriend at the memorial event held 20 days after Zhang went missing, saying they were there "for me".
"All those people here tonight. They want her home safe. They have no idea what happened. I'm the only one," he said.
Proceeding to detail how he killed Zhang at his apartment, Christensen described her as "valiant", and said her family, who had travelled from China in the hope of finding her, would "leave empty-handed".
"It's just my legacy," Christensen said, and informed his girlfriend he had told her because he trusted her and wanted to talk about the matter "so much".
However, he didn't disclose where Zhang was, but added "they will never find her" and "no one will ever know where she is".
"She is gone forever," he said.
Christensen was arrested the next day.
The recording concluded the third day of the trial, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
On Wednesday, the defense team made a surprise move by admitting that Christensen was responsible for Zhang's death.
"Brendt Christensen killed Yingying Zhang, and nothing we say or do during this phase of the trial is intended to sidestep or deny that Brendt Christensen was responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang," said defense attorney George Taseff in the opening statement, adding that Christensen was "on trial for his life".
The defense team, however, still pleaded not guilty.
Wang Zhidong, a lawyer helping members of Zhang's family, said admitting Christensen was responsible for Zhang's death is part of the defense lawyers' tactics to avoid the death penalty.
"As long as the suspect hasn't pleaded guilty, the trial will continue because neither the suspect nor his lawyers agreed with any details about the gruesome murder," Wang said, adding that by pleading not guilty, the trial must go through the verdict process before the final death penalty phases.
Wang said the recording between Christensen and his girlfriend presented by the prosecutor is the key evidence in the case.
"We can see that the defense lawyers are trying to argue that the suspect was very drunk at the time and the quality of the recording was very poor," Wang said. He added that they were also trying to prove that many things Christensen said in the recording were not true, which could be used to indicate that some of the details he gave about the case might also not be true.
In fact, the defense team had argued repeatedly that investigators found no evidence associated with the 12 other murders Christensen claimed to have committed, and filed a motion for mistrial on a related topic on Thursday, which was dismissed by the judge.
"But for the prosecutors, the most effective evidence is Zhang's DNA sample, smell (of human decomposition) and blood found at the suspect's apartment," Wang said. "And more evidence will be shown to the jury members in court next week."