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Killer of Visiting Chinese Student Given Life Sentence Without Parole

FILE - Brendt Christensen was convicted of the kidnapping, raping and stabbing of visiting University of Illinois Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.

A 29-year-old former University of Illinois student will spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping and murdering a visiting Chinese scholar in 2017.

When the jury deadlocked on whether Brendt Christensen should get the death penalty, federal Judge James Shadid automatically sentenced him to a life term with no chance of parole.

Christensen kidnapped and murdered Yingying Zhang by beating her with a bat and cutting off her head.

Her body has never been found. Zhang's parents came from China to Peoria, Illinois, for the trial. They pleaded with Christensen to reveal where he put her body.

"If you have any humanity left in your soul, please help us end our torment," a family statement read.

FILE - Ronggao Zhang, left, and Lifeng Ye, display a photo them with their missing daughter, Yingying Zhang, in Urbana, Ill., Nov. 1, 2017.
FILE - Ronggao Zhang, left, and Lifeng Ye, display a photo them with their missing daughter, Yingying Zhang, in Urbana, Ill., Nov. 1, 2017.

In especially emotional testimony, Zhang's mother lamented that she will never get to see her daughter wear a wedding gown and that her dreams of becoming a grandmother were smashed.

Shadid scolded Christensen for not addressing the Zhang family when he was given the chance.

Zhang was from a working-class Chinese family and she was studying at the University of Illinois in Champaign, hoping to become an agriculture professor.

Prosecutors say Christensen was out to kill someone and drove the streets near the campus looking for a victim. They say Zhang happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Zhang was running late for an appointment to sign a lease on an apartment when Christensen, posing as an officer, lured her into his car. He drove her to his apartment where he stabbed her, raped her, beat her with a baseball bat, and cut off her head.

Christensen's former girlfriend wore a concealed recorder and taped him giving details on the murder, turning over the tape to police. Investigators also say they found blood in Christensen's apartment that matched Zhang's DNA.

Christensen has also claimed to be a serial killer who murdered 12 other victims. The FBI is investigating his claims.

Christensen's lawyers never denied he killed Zhang, but spent their efforts trying to counter the prosecution's account on how and why she was murdered.

They spoke of his mental health issues, saying he suffered from depression and felt himself losing control of his life. They say Christensen had been a straight-A student who was failing all his classes in the months before the murder.