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UPDATE, 5 p.m.

A University of Illinois psychiatrist will not be allowed to testify, and court is done for the day.

"I don't like making that decision," Judge Jim Shadid said, but he said it's the only one he can make.

He repeatedly noted that Christensen's lawyers withdrew their planned mental health defense, and that the psychiatrist is a mental health expert.

The psychiatrist saw Christensen nine times from January 2016 to February 2017. The defense said she changed his prescriptions once because they weren't working.

She apparently diagnosed him with persistent depressive disorder.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison physics professor who taught Brendt Christensen testified about how good a student Christensen was.

Matthew Herndon said during testimony Thursday afternoon that he went on to employ Christensen and that he wrote a letter of recommendation to get Christensen into the UI physics program.

He expected Christensen to excel as a grad student.

Asked on cross whether he knew anything about the decisions Christensen made after he left UW, Herndon said, “not until I saw him in the news.”

Prosecutors and defense counsel are arguing over whether the next witness, a UI psychiatrist who saw Christensen nine times from January 2016 to February 2017, can testify.

Defense had previously dropped their mental health defense but says the psychiatrist will only testify about the records before her.

She apparently diagnosed him with persistent depressive disorder. The defense was going to ask if someone with that diagnosis would be expected to still have it, which Judge Shadid said wouldn’t be allowed.

Prosecution said it’s “preposterous” for her to testify after a mental health defense was dropped.

The witness is scheduled for 3 p.m., but Judge Shadid is taking a few minutes to decide.

Christensen’s defense team also said they hope to finish Monday or Tuesday, with Christensen’s ex-wife, mother and sister still set to testify.

UPDATE, 1:45 p.m.

Brendt Christensen’s on-and-off struggles at the UI finally came to a head in the spring of 2016, said the head of the research group he was in.

When he joined the group in 2014, Christensen “seemed very enthusiastic,” said Nadya Mason. But in the spring of ’16, “it became clear it wasn’t working out.”

Mason said she went to the University of Illinois to work for the “world’s best condensed matter physics” program. “I wanted to make sure that’s on the record,” she said.

Christensen first had trouble in the fall of 2014 after he joined Mason’s group, but he recovered after the two met one-on-one, she said.

"He assured me he wanted to be there,” Mason said, but said he had been depressed, though he thought things were improving.

Mason eventually told Christensen that grad school didn’t seem to be working for him, and she said he agreed and was waiting for her to contact him.

On cross, she said she didn’t get to know Christensen like she did her other students, apparently previously telling prosecutors it was like he was wearing a mask.

Elaine Schulte, the manager of the large intro physics classes at the time, testified about dealing with Christensen in the spring of 2017.

She said there was an incident where one of Christensen’s student’s exams went missing.

The professor had to rewrite the entire exam. Schulte emailed Christensen about it and he never responded.

He also never responded to an email about him missing TA meetings. Not responding to

multiple emails would be “highly unusual,” Schulte said.

Lance Cooper, the assistant head of graduate physics programs, read from Christensen’s application, where he said he “must continue my search for understanding.”

Christensen’s grades, according to Cooper:

Fall 13: B+, A-, A

Spring 14: B-, A

Fall 14: individual study (Cooper said most students got As for this)

Spring 15: A-, A-

Fall 15: individual study

Spring 16: individual study

Fall 16: F, F, F

Spring 17: B, D+, F, C+

In May 2016, Christensen decided to get a master’s degree instead of a PhD, but he still had to fulfill some class requirements — those didn’t have to be in physics.

In the spring of 2017, Christensen took classes on insects, dinosaurs and the sociology of deviance, and qualified for his master’s in May 2017.



PEORIA — Fellow physics colleagues testified that Brendt Christensen started out driven but started missing weekly TA meetings, stopped showing up to his office hours and did not use equipment he had signed up to use during testimony Thursday morning at the convicted killer’s sentencing hearing in Peoria.

A fellow grad student, Rita Garrido Menacho, said they had game nights in 2015-16, and Christensen drank too much at one and had to wait to drive home.

At one of the game nights, he also attempted to kiss a woman there, Garrido Menacho said she was told.

She also saw him at the campus vigil for Ms. Zhang, which she said seemed odd since he wasn’t too social and because she hadn’t seen him in a while.

In spring 2017, a professor he was TAing for said he didn’t show up for weekly TA meetings because he said his wife’s car had a problem.

Also testifying Thursday morning was Christensen’s junior high track coach and advanced algebra teacher.

David Belk said Christensen was a good student and triple jumper.

“Hard working, quiet,” Belk said.