Illinois jury goes home without sentence verdict for Brendt Christensen

PEORIA, Ill. —Jurors went home Wednesday evening after a first day of deliberations without a decision on whether a former University of Illinois doctoral student should be put to death for slaying a young scholar from China.

The jury withdrew to deliberate Wednesday afternoon after closing arguments in the death-penalty stage of the case against Brendt Christensen. The same jurors convicted him last month of killing Yingying Zhang.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before the judge dismissed them for the day around 5 p.m. They will resume their deliberations Thursday.

They took less than 90 minutes to return with a guilty verdict last month, in part because defense lawyers said during the trial their client killed Zhang.

Among the questions they must answer in the penalty phase is whether Christensen displayed unique cruelty in how he killed Zhang or whether he exhibited redeeming qualities in his life.

Christensen's attorney, Elisabeth Pollock said that, while the defense admits their client killed Zhang, his life as a loving, gentle child and other positive characteristics should spare him the death penalty.

A tearful Pollock stood behind Christensen as she ended her remarks, put her hands on his shoulders and told jurors: "He is a whole person. He is not just the worst thing he did."

She also told jurors that Christensen was going to leave prison "in a casket" no matter what their decision.

Zhang's body was never found and Christensen hasn't said what he did with the body.

Christensen could be first person to get death penalty since 1999

The last person to be executed in Illinois was Andrew Kokoraleis, a member of the infamous "Ripper Crew." Kokoraleis was executed in 1999.

The death penalty was abolished in the state in 2011. However, federally, a defendant can still be given the death penalty only by a unanimous jury.

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