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Father of killer of scholar takes stand in death-penalty hearing: 'I love him, nothing's going to stop that'

Jamie Munks, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

PEORIA, Ill. -- Convicted killer Brendt Christensen's father took the stand Wednesday in an effort to save his son's life, testifying about his son's childhood night terrors and his love of animals, as well as about his mother's alcoholism.

"I'm his parent, I have to be here," Michael Christensen said. "I love him, nothing's going to stop that."

Christensen testified for the defense before a jury that will decide whether Brendt Christensen should be executed for the 2017 kidnapping and murder in Champaign-Urbana of Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang or receive life in prison. The same jury found him guilty of the crime last month.

The elder Christensen broke down when asked by defense attorney Elisabeth Pollock if he had anything to say to the family of Zhang, a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois. As he spoke, Brendt Christensen's shoulders shook, and he covered his eyes with his hand.

"I'm sorry my son was the cause of their pain," Michael Christensen said.

Zhang family members are in Peoria for the trial and testified Tuesday but were not in the courtroom for that portion of Michael Christensen's testimony Wednesday.

 

"Do you still love him?" Pollock asked.

"Oh God, yeah," Michael Christensen said.

Christensen, who on occasion referred to Brendt as "Mr. B.," said he still supports his son and will continue to support him if he's given a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"A death sentence I could handle, but not the actual death," Michael Christensen said. "I can't think about it. He has too much to offer."

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