A federal jury has convicted a former University of Illinois student of killing a visiting Chinese scholar in 2017.
It took the jury less than two hours to find Brendt Christensen guilty of kidnapping, raping, and stabbing Yingying Zhang. Prosecutors say Christensen also beat her with a baseball bat and cut off her head.
Zhang's body has never been found.
Prosecutors say Christensen was out to kill someone and drove the streets near the university campus in Champaign 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 raped and killed her.
Christensen's former girlfriend wore a concealed recorder and taped him giving details on the murder. Investigators found blood in Christensen’s apartment that matched Zhang's DNA.
Christensen also claimed to be a serial killer who has murdered 12 other victims. The FBI is investigating.
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.
Zhang's family came to Illinois from China for the trial. The University of Illinois' large Chinese student population also closely followed the proceedings.
Zhang was from a working-class Chinese family who was hoping to become a professor in agriculture.
Christensen could face the death penalty when he is sentenced later this year. Illinois has outlawed capital punishment, but Christensen was convicted on federal charges.