Christensen Peoria court4

The federal courthouse is shown Monday, June 3, 2019, in Peoria.

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PEORIA — After nearly eight hours of deliberation, the jurors deciding Brendt Christensen’s fate for kidnapping and killing Yingying Zhang had one more question.

“We need help,” they wrote at 1:35 p.m. “We’d like to know what the results are if there’s no unanimous decision.”

It was the clearest signal yet from the jury, and less than an hour later, they said they had reached a verdict.

The foreman handed the 21-page special verdict form to the court clerk, who then passed it on to U.S. District Judge Jim Shadid.

Shortly after 2:35 p.m., he announced that jurors had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, so Christensen was sentenced to life in prison.

The jury had three options and checked the result that read, ”After making all reasonable efforts, we, the jury, are unable to reach a unanimous decision.”

Then each of the jurors — seven men and five women — signed the verdict form.

The jurors were selected during a lengthy process in Peoria, where they were brought in one by one to the judge’s chambers and questioned about their views on the death penalty.

To qualify to serve, they had to be open both to a life sentence and a death sentence.

They then sat through eight days of testimony during the guilt phase and seven during the penalty phase.

During their deliberations, the jury asked five questions — three on Wednesday and two on Thursday.

They asked about the scope of the prosecution’s aggravating factor of future dangerousness; had three questions about how to handle the defense’s mitigating factors; and one final question — what to do if they’re not in unanimous agreement.

While they all ended up agreeing that seven of the prosecution’s eight aggravating factors existed, they did not unanimously agree that Christensen “is likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future,” according to the completed verdict form.

And they didn’t indicate how many of them found that some of the defense’s 49 mitigating factors were proven. They were asked to do so, but weren’t required to.

However, the form did list two additional mitigating factors that some of the jurors found, which they were allowed to add.

Two said “Christensen was taking antidepressants and in combination with other alcohol and drugs could result in serious side effects.”

And five jurors said “Christensen is not a social, charismatic person, and so is unlikely to recruit others to commit violent acts on his behalf.”

But the filled-out verdict form did not reveal what the final breakdown was.

After the sentence was announced, Shadid asked if either side would like the jury to be polled, and both sides said no.

He then thanked jurors for their service and discharged them from their duties.

When Christensen was formally sentenced by Shadid at 4 p.m., about 10 of the jurors came in to watch, this time not from the jury box but from the gallery with the rest of the audience.


Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).