The family of a Chinese scholar who was murdered near the University of Illinois in 2017 pleaded with the killer to reveal the location of her remains after a judge sentenced him to a life in prison.
Brendt Christensen was handed a life sentence on Thursday after a jury failed to reach unanimous verdict on whether to give him the death penalty. The 30-year-old former doctoral student last month was convicted for abducting Yingying Zhang from a bus stop, then raping and choking her before fatally beating her to death with a bat and decapitating her.
Zhang, a 26-year-old from China, came to the United States as a visiting scholar in April 2017 to begin post-grad research at the University of Illinois. She vanished the morning of June 9, 2017 while she was on the way to sign a lease for her new apartment and she has not been seen since.
Her remains were never recovered.
Following the sentencing hearing, Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, called on Christensen to tell authorities what he did with her body so that the family may find peace.
“Now that the trial is over and the jury has made its decision, we ask the defendant to unconditionally tell us what he knows about Yingying’s location,” he said, according WAND
“If you have any humanity left in your soul, please help end our torment. Please let us bring Yingying home.”
Related: Vintage crime photos from the Daily News
Vintage crime photos from the Daily News
Vintage crime photos from the Daily News
UNITED STATES - MARCH 03: Confessed Slayer Enraged. William Patrick Farrell screams as he lunges toward fotog taking his picture in van outside Police Headquarters. Police say that Farrell, 25, father of two, reenacted for them the slaying of NYU coed Ann Yarrow last month. Farrell, a patient at Bellevue Hosipital twice before, was ordered to Bellevue again. (Photo by Al Amy/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 25: Leon Liss, Barney Mortillaro, Milton (Shuffles) Goldberg, Louis Liss, Pasquale Chicarelli and gang leader Richard Reese Whittemore (l. to r.) in a police lineup, after they were implicated in a gem holdup on W. 48th St. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 09: Theodore A. Clement in the back of a police paddy wagon after allegedly shooting a man during a poker game. (Photo by Al Amy/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: Isadore Strauss in jail cell at police headquarters after his arrest for murder and robbery in connection with Whittemore gang job. (Photo by Paul Levine/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 04: Abe (Kid Twist) Reles (center) in a police mug shot. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Liquor store owner Abraham Weissman views the body of stickupman, Otis Mims, whom he shot during an attempted robbery. (Photo by Gary Kagan/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: Mass murderer Harry F. Powers, the Butcher of Clarksburg, tells a detective about the details of his grisly murders in Clarksburg, W.Va. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 19: Nela Bogacki, alias Nella Bogart, madam of the 'Continental call girl ring,' handcuffed to Salema Hontover after being seized by the F.B.I. Both are to be deported for illegal entry. (Photo by Al Amy/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 25: The body of Albert Anastasia - who ran Murder, Inc., a gang of hired killers for organized crime, in the late 1930s - lies on the barbershop floor at the Park Sheraton Hotel, Seventh Avenue and West 55th Street, soon after his murder by two gunmen at 10:20 A.M. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 20: A manacled LeRoy Luscomb is charged with first degree murder in the killing of his wife with a deer rifle. His wife is on the bed in the rear of the photo., (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) When John Kerr, of 147 W. 84th Street, and Peter Macon, 490 Columbus Avenue, were being booked on a mugging charge at the West 68th St. Precinct today, photographer Phil Grietzer, New York Daily News photographer, drew a bead on the proceedings with his camera. He didn't know the boys had a camera allergy. But he found out when the two, although handcuffed together, came charging at him. Another photographer who doesn't suffer from buck fever, got this picture.
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 16: Driver and bodyguard Thomas Bilotti lies on the street next to car after he and crime boss Paul Castellano were shot to death outside East Side steakhouse. (Photo by Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
He added that while the family had been pushing for the death penalty, the life sentence still “reflects our loss in a meaningful way.”
“We hope that every day he spends in prison he feels the pain and suffering that we feel for the loss of Yingying,” Ronggao Zhang said.
Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, but it can still be imposed in federal cases like Zhang’s.
During the investigation, authorities said Christensen initially struggled to remember his whereabouts the day he abducted Zhang, but later changed his story and admitted that he offered an Asian woman a ride, according to a criminal complaint. On June 29, 2017 Christensen described in detail to his girlfriend how he killed the missing student, unaware that she’d been recording the conversation.
His apartment was subsequently searched, and he was arrested the following day.
“Tragically, a young woman’s life was cut short by the evil crimes perpetrated in this case,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement.
“The Department of Justice insisted on holding the defendant accountable to fullest extent of the law and hopes that today’s outcome delivers some measure of justice for Yingying and her family."