The Latest: Illinois jury goes home without sentence verdict

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — The Latest on the sentencing in the slaying of a visiting Chinese scholar (all times local):

5:55 p.m.

Jurors have gone home after a first day of deliberations without a decision on whether a former University of Illinois doctoral student should be put to death for slaying a young scholar from China.

The jury withdrew to deliberate Wednesday afternoon after closing arguments in the death-penalty stage of the case against Brendt Christensen. The same jurors convicted him last month of killing Yingying Zhang.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before the judge dismissed them for the day. They will resume their deliberations Thursday.

They took less than 90 minutes to return with a guilty verdict last month, in part because defense lawyers said during the trial their client killed Zhang.

Among the questions they must answer in the penalty phase is whether Christensen displayed unique cruelty in how he killed Zhang or whether he exhibited redeeming qualities in his life.

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2:05 p.m.

Christensen’s attorney, Elisabeth Pollock said that, while the defense admits their client killed Zhang, his life as a loving, gentle child and other positive characteristics should spare him the death penalty.

A tearful Pollock stood behind Christensen as she ended her remarks, put her hands on his shoulders and told jurors: “He is a whole person. He is not just the worst thing he did.”

She also told jurors that Christensen was going to leave prison “in a casket” no matter what their decision.

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12 a.m.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are delivering final arguments to jurors on whether a former University of Illinois doctoral student should be sentenced to death for killing a young scholar from China.

Closing arguments Wednesday come after testimony in the death-penalty phase of 30-year-old Brendt Christensen’s case. Jurors will begin deliberating after closings. If they can’t agree unanimously on the death penalty, he’ll go to prison for life.

The same jurors took under 90 minutes to convict him at trial last month for kidnapping 28-year-old Yingying Zhang, raping her and beating her to death with a bat.

Prosecutors have emphasized the brutally of the 2017 slaying. The defense tried to humanize Christensen, showing him in videos as a child.

Zhang’s body was never found and Christensen hasn’t said what he did with the body.

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