UPDATE: 10:45 a.m.
“This concludes all the evidence from the sentencing phase,” U.S. District Judge Jim Shadid said after prosecution made a brief rebuttal.
The jury has been excused for the day and prosecutors, the defense and Judge Shadid are discussing jury instructions.
Closing arguments will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
In court Tuesday, Shadid said prosecutors didn’t need to bring up the guinea pig, as Christensen’s affinity for his cat would not be a key issue during the closing. Pollock also noted it’s uncorroborated.
Pollock also said the defense wouldn’t attack Christensen’s ex-girlfriend’s credibility, so Christensen listing her as a reference was moot.
In their rebuttal, over defense’s objection, prosecution got in another chance to play the jail call of Christensen’s now-ex-wife mocking his ex-girlfriend under the premise that she claimed in her testimony that Christensen didn’t laugh on the tape when it appears he did.
Prosecution also played a July 4, 2017, jail call of his father saying that once Christensen is exonerated, he’d “love to contact her dad” and everyone else who assumed Christensen’s guilt and point out that they “should be ashamed.”
The jury won’t hear anything about the plea negotiations with Christensen, as the two sides couldn’t agree to a stipulation about how the negotiations went down.
In one that was unsealed Friday, his lawyers said finding Ms. Zhang’s remains was "a circumstance over which he had no control. No matter how badly he felt or how desperately he wished he could undo the damage he had caused, he could not guarantee that the victim’s remains would be found.”
URBANA — In a motion filed late Monday, federal prosecutors said they want to bring up during their rebuttal today evidence that Brendt Christensen killed a guinea pig.
“Prior to trial, the defendant moved to exclude evidence that the defendant told (his ex-girlfriend) Terra Bullis that he had killed a guinea pig while he listened to it squeal,” prosecutors wrote. “The Court granted the defendant’s motion to exclude this evidence.”
In pretrial documents, this incident had been referred to by Christensen’s lawyers as “alleged mistreatment of a guinea pig.”
His defense team focused on his childhood trauma and his behavior in jail for the past two years while trying to convince the jury that convicted him of kidnapping and killing Yingying Zhang in 2017 to give him life in prison instead of the death penalty.
While the incident wasn’t allowed in, prosecutors now want to mention it because his lawyers have brought up how well he got along with his pets.
“The defendant introduced evidence of the defendant with a pet cat growing up, that the defendant slept with a cat on his back, and that the defendant would never harm an animal,” prosecutors wrote. “The jury now has the false impression that the defendant would never harm an animal.”
When Christensen’s father was testifying, the defense showed a picture of Christensen playing with a cat.
“He loved animals,” Mike Christensn said last week.
On cross-examination, he was asked if his son ever hurt an animal.
“He better not,” Christensen’s dad said. “He never showed any animosity.”
And on Monday, his mother Ellen Williams said after a construction accident, Christensen only felt safe sleeping if his cat was on his back.
Prosecutors either want to be able to introduce evidence of the guinea pig incident or prevent Christensen’s lawyers from making the case during closing arguments that he never harmed an animal.
Christensen was convicted last month of kidnapping and killing visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang.
After closing arguments are made Wednesday, the jury will decide whether Christensen will be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.
Prosecutors have made the case that Christensen killed Ms. Zhang in an especially heinous way involving torture, that Christensen has lacked remorse and that the impact on her family has been tremendous, especially not being able to give her a proper burial without her body.
The defense has tried to humanize Christensen, describing him as a bright and polite young child who was struggling to deal with depression, anxiety, sleep problems and alcohol abuse.
For Christensen to receive the death penalty, the jury will have to reach a unanimous decision for it. If not, he’ll receive life in prison without the possibility of release.
Also in Monday’s filing, prosecutors said that if defense attacks Bullis’ credibility, they want to be able to present Christensen’s job applications that list her as a reference for him.
Bullis wore a recording device for the FBI, taping him describing in gruesome detail how he said he killed Ms. Zhang.
His lawyers have tried to cast doubt on this tape, noting he was drinking and bragged that he has 12 other victims, a claim the FBI hasn’t been able to corroborate.