LIVE: The trial of Brendt Christensen, Day 8

 

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UPDATE: 3 p.m.

PEORIA — As the case wrapped up, Brendt Christensen made his first statements at the trial, declining to testify.

Judge Shadid asked him if he understood his rights. "Yes," he said.

He was asked if he had any questions. "No," Christensen said.

So you’re not testifying? "That’s correct," Christensen said.

Asked if he was promised anything or threatened for not testifying. "No," Christensen said.

This decision is your? "Yes," he said.

Asked again if he had any questions. "No," Christensen said.

Defense also made another motion for mistrial that was denied related to the 13 victims claim.

The rest of the counseling center video was played. In it, Christensen said he gets 2-5 hours of sleep.

He said he wasn’t in contact much with his family, telling counselors he doesn’t have friends and spends all his time with his wife.

He talked about how he was interested in serial killers, particularly Ted Bundy.

After he didn’t get a Ph.D. in physics, he realized he’s "probably not a genius."

"I do not see a path from where I’m in," he says at one point. "Maybe it will appear one day."

He said he didn’t think he was a sociopath, and said the risks, with modern technology, aren’t worth it, and "I would not last in prison." He said he wouldn’t want to live with the guilt.

He returned to the counseling center nine days later, and repeated much of what he said, in more details, his lawyer said.

Defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock asked FBI agent Andrew Huckstadt to clarify when Terra Bullis received her initial payment from the FBI. He said probably June 22, 2017, of $1,000 for her services.

After a recess and the jury returned, Pollock said, "the defense rests."

The prosecution then brought in one rebuttal witness over disputes about what the jail cell informant said.

Once the witness finished, Judge Shadid said that all the evidence had been submitted and that closing statements would begin Monday.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m.

PEORIA — Part of a counseling center video from March 2017 was played Friday at the trial of Brendt Christensen. In the video:

— Christensen said he went there because he had been abusing Vicodin and alcohol for years and because his wife wanted him to go to counseling center.

— He talked about a severe accident when he was in his teens. He said he had a continuous supply of Vicodin for two or three months.

— But he said alcohol is the biggest problem, and his wife has told him to stop.

"Whenever I drink, it's a lot," he said. He said beer was easier to moderate, but he prefers rum because it's cheap.

— He estimated he'll have 15-20 drinks, but says he's only blacked out once.

— He said his wife doesn't like his drinking at all.

— Christensen also said he's probably had depression since he was a teenager, but didn't seek help until two years prior, when he saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed anti-depressants that seemed to help.

— He was asked about his background, and how he transferred to University of Wisconsin at Madison and then got accepted to UIUC for physics, "literally the best" school for that, or at least for his particular field.

The tape was stopped there and will continue after lunch.

This tape has been played before in parts by the prosecution, including toward the end when he talks about his interest in serial killers.

The defense did not favor playing only specific parts of the tape and wanted the full context played.

UPDATE: 11 a.m.

PEORIA — Defense made another motion for mistrial, which was denied, but an instruction to the jury will be made about the 13 victims claim being about Brend Christensen's state of mind.

Prosecution officially rested its case. "The government rests at this time," Eugene Miller said.

The defense called its private investigator and an FBI agent to clarify/dispute some of what a jail cell informant said.

And then Christensen’s ex-wife, Michelle Zortman testified. As she walked in, Christensen looked at her, unlike when his ex-girlfriend walked in.

After starting dating in 2008, they got married in 2011 in Madison, Wis., by a lawyer in a hotel with their parents and four friends.

She said they spent their time together playing video games and watching TV.

She she’s a private person.

Ask if she was a fan of testifying, she said: "No."

Wish you weren’t here? "Very much."

She discussed their marital problems starting in 2016, when his alcohol problems started getting worse

In December 2016, he drunkenly told her something that disturbed her and their marriage was "never the same."

In the spring of 2017. his drinking got worse. She suggested an open marriage and eventually divorce.

He agreed to open marriage, but convinced her to stay married, she said.

She said when told that she wanted a divorce, Christensen was uncommonly emotional to the point of crying — she said for the first time in their marriage.

She described being leery of Christensen when she returned from Wisconsin to Champaign and FBI agents showed up. She slept in different room.

Christensen showed her a blood stain on a mattress and claimed it was from a nose bleed.

She saw him carry out a duffle bag June 12, but didn’t see it closely.

Asked why she continues to be in contact with Christensen, despite knowing he killed Ms. Zhang, Zortman said "he was the biggest person in my life for most of a decade." It’s "difficult to end ties like that."

***

PEORIA — The family of Yingying Zhang has been watching the past week of Brendt Christensen's trial in Peoria, with her father, brother and boyfriend in the main courtroom, and her mother watching from an overflow room.

"The mother is very, very sensitive, and even the sight of the defendant could lead to an emotional reaction," said Steve Beckett, the family's lawyer in Urbana, on WDWS on Friday morning.

Throughout the trial, the family has sat quietly, not making much of a reaction even to a recording of Christensen describing how he killed Ms. Zhang in gruesome detail.

"My impression of the family is that they have a real quiet dignity," Beckett said. "They're not educated, sophisticated people. They're from an agricultural region in southeast China, but they're just really wonderful folks. And of course, what happened to their daughter is just a tragedy."

Beckett said he had told the family it was possible the defense could admit their client killed Ms. Zhang, as they did in opening statements.

"But in 46 years of practicing law, it's not something that you see," Beckett said. "It clearly was different."

Because of the admission, Beckett expects a guilty verdict Monday, followed by the sentencing phase when the jury decides whether Christensen is sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.

And Beckett said he was impressed with the cooperation between the different agencies investigating Ms. Zhang's disappearance.

"What I found is how absolutely remarkable and well-organized the cooperation between the University of Illinois Police Department, the FBI, the MTD," Beckett said. "They took on this search and this investigation in a collaborative way that would make you proud."