Combined file photo shows Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying (R) and suspect Brendt Christensen. (File photo)
Brendt Christensen, a former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) doctoral student, was ruled guilty Monday of kidnapping and killing Zhang Yingying, a visiting Chinese scholar at UIUC in 2017.
A 12-member jury at a federal court of Peoria in the U.S. state of Illinois unanimously ruled that Christensen was guilty of all three counts of charge against him, namely kidnapping resulting in death of Zhang in 2017; and two counts of making false statements to FBI.
It took less than two hours for the jury to make the decision after the prosecutor and the defense finished their closing statements on Monday morning.
In his 70-minute closing statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller stressed the preparedness of Christensen in committing the crime, and the readiness in making false statements to the investigators.
In a following press conference outside the courtroom, Zhang Ronggao, father of Zhang Yingying, told Xinhua he was satisfied with the verdict. "I thank the jury for this step towards justice."
He also expressed thanks to the prosecutors, the UI police, the FBI and all people who helped in the investigation and trial of the case.
Zhang's father further hoped the justice will be done in the upcoming penalty sentence, which is scheduled on July 8 when the same jury will decide whether Christensen deserves the death penalty.
"We have missed Yingying tremendously in the past two years," he said solemnly. "There is no language that can describe our pain and suffering."
Zhang's mother broke into tears standing beside Zhang's father.
"This has been a difficult process for Yingying's family," said Wang Zhidong, legal advisor to Zhang's family, in a statement on behalf of the family. "The jury's verdict of guilty in this case is a step toward justice for Yingying."
Zhang, a 26-year-old visiting Chinese scholar, went missing on June 9, 2017, after getting into a black Saturn Astra about five blocks from where she got off a bus on her way to an apartment complex to sign a lease.
Christensen was arrested on June 30, 2017, after being caught on tape pointing out people he described as "ideal victims" during a vigil in Zhang's honor. But he pleaded not guilty.