UPDATE, 5:30 p.m.:
PEORIA — Brendt Christensen's lawyers called their last witness, his sister Andrea Christensen, and Brendt Christensen declined to take the stand.
The defense will formally rest their case tomorrow, followed by rebuttal from the prosecution. Closing arguments are set for Wednesday.
His sister said that growing up, she looked up to her brother and that he was a role model for her. He never tried to get her to leave when his friends were over.
"Brendt was a very gentle person," she said, and never raised his voice.
His sister said her parents' relationship was tense because of her mom's alcoholism. When she was 8 or 9 years old, she was going to drink what she thought was water from her mom's coffee cup, but her mom told her not to because it was vodka.
She also said Christensen's wife is "awesome," describing her as calm and sweet.
After his sister moved to Seattle and Christensen to Champaign, she said she stopped contacting her family besides the occasional Facebook message. Asked specifically about contact with Christensen, she said, "No, but I should have."
Said she felt "shock, grief, empathy" when she heard about Christensen's crime. "I felt very sad that he was suffering enough" to do that.
She said, "nothing changes my love for him."
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Under a subpoena, she flew in from out of state to testify for the defense, which is trying to convince the jury that the convicted kidnapper and killer should receive life in prison instead of the death penalty.
UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.:
PEORIA — Brendt Christensen’s mother, Ellen Williams, testified this afternoon, saying “it would be horrible” if her son got the death penalty. “It would be devastating,” she said.
About his crime, she said: “It’s horrible. It’s sad. I feel bad.”
She said she thinks about Ms. Zhang’s family “at least five times a day and how horrible this must be for them.”
But she says she still loves Christensen. “My love for all my kids and Brendt ... it’s certainly unconditional.”
She said that after her son had his incident when 19 years old when he fell at work site, Christensen told her he googled his symptoms and thought he may have schizophrenia. Prosecution objected.
His mom said she took him to a doctor, who told him he was having PTSD.
Defense also played a compilation of family videos of Christensen at his first birthday, opening Christmas gifts and playing the piano.
Christensen appeared to be crying at different points during his mother’s testimony, grabbing tissues in front of him.
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Original story, published 11 a.m.:
PEORIA — Jail employees are testifying today during the sentencing phase of Brendt Christensen's trial.
Up first: Livingston County Jail superintendent Stewart Inman.
Christensen, guilty of kidnapping and killing visiting UI scholar Yingying Zhang, was jailed there from late September 2017 to the end of May 2019, when he was taken to the Peoria County Jail to be close to the courthouse during trial.
Christensen had no violations, Inman said. The only incident was with a “stinger” in April 2018. A stinger is a piece of metal put in an outlet to heat water.
Christensen apparently blocked the window into his cell but was found not culpable and not punished, Inman said.
Christensen lived with seven other inmates in a pod.
Christensen also was only supposed to have three books at a time, but had more and the extras were stored away. Again, there was not a violation for this, Inman said.
Sgt. Donald Niles said Christensen would stay up late or all night reading and writing. “He didn’t sleep very much,” he said.
On cross examination, Inman said inmates in Christensen’s pod had access to their own TV, shower, phone, video phone and tablet.