A federal court jury Thursday sentenced convicted murderer Brendt Christensen to life in prison for the June 2017 murder of University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang of China. Those who may question the jury’s decision not to impose the death penalty should still show appreciation for those who gave up more than a month to listen to every grisly detail of what was inarguably a nightmarish case.
The United States and its citizens take seriously the principle enshrined in the Constitution that a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to legal counsel and a public trial by an impartial jury. That principle has been on full display for the last month at U.S. Federal Courthouse in Peoria in the gruesome murder case of U.S. v. Christensen.
That defendant Brendt Christensen was guilty of the murder of Chinese national Yingying Zhang was never in doubt; Christensen’s attorneys acknowledged it on the first day of the trial. Virtually all of the defense arguments since early June have been about the 30-year-old Christensen avoiding the death penalty.
Despite ghastly testimony about the death of Ms. Zhang and emotional statements from the victim’s family members, Christensen was sentenced Thursday not to the death penalty but to life in a federal prison. As his attorney, Elisabeth Pollock, had told jurors, “He’s leaving in a coffin, no matter what you do.”
Christensen is likely to spend decades in prison until he dies. Jurors, too, will carry this experience with them for the rest of their lives. Some or all of them may well experience emotional distress as a result. They deserve nothing short of our respect and gratitude for fulfilling their civic duty.