US college student killed Chinese scholar, his lawyers admit at trial

A Chinese scholar who has been missing for two years was kidnapped and killed by a former US graduate student, the man's lawyer admitted Wednesday at the opening of his death penalty trial.

Reveailing the gruesome details of the crime for the first time, an attorney for Brendt Christensen acknowledged the 29-year-old's guilt and said the crux of the defense argument would be to spare him the death penalty.

"Brendt Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang," defense attorney George Taseff said in court, according to US media.

The prosecutor in the trial said Christensen kidnapped Zhang near the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, a small midwestern city surrounded by farmland. She was last seen getting into the man's car in June 2017.

Christensen then raped and stabbed her to death, and decapitated her body to dispose of it in an unknown location, assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller told the jury.

"He claimed they will never find her," Miller said, according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Miller also revealed that Christensen claimed that Zhang was his thirteenth victim, although there has been no evidence found to support that.

Zhang, who was 26, was visiting the University of Illinois to conduct research. Christensen, was a graduate student instructor on campus.

The trial has drawn intense interest within the small college community Champaign and neighboring Urbana.

Zhang's Chinese family traveled to the US after her disappearance and has been seen at the trial.

Prosecutors said they intended to show the jury secret audio recordings of Christensen admitting to the kidnapping and boasting of being a serial killer.

The surveillance recordings feature the 29-year-old "explaining how he kidnapped" Zhang and "held her in his apartment against her will," according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Christensen previously had expressed interest in serial killers, practiced bondage and sado-masochism and had attempted to arrange a "consensual kidnapping" via a fetishist website.

They also intended to claim that Christensen posed as a police officer and attempted to lure someone else into his car earlier on the same day that Zhang went missing.

Attorneys representing Zhang's estate on Friday filed a civil lawsuit against Christensen and two university-employed social workers claiming wrongful death and negligence.

The lawsuit claims Christensen sought help for prescription drug and alcohol abuse, as well as homicidal and suicidal thoughts, and "an obsession with serial killers."

Social workers allegedly devised a treatment plan but did not alert the university that Christensen was a potential threat, according to the lawsuit.