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Location of murdered scholar's remains still a mystery

By KONG WENZHENG | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-06 07:43

Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois who went missing on June 9, 2017, is pictured in an undated photo provided by the University of Illinois Police Department. [Photo/Agencies]

An attorney representing the family of murdered Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying said suggestions that her remains could be in an Illinois landfill are inaccurate.

The attorney, Wang Zhidong, did not elaborate on that comment but added that Zhang's family has scheduled a news conference for 10 am on Wednesday in Champaign, Illinois.

The News-Gazette, a local newspaper, reported that attorney Steve Beckett, who also represents Zhang's family, said the information on the whereabouts of Zhang's remains came from lawyers representing her convicted killer, Brendt Christensen, 30.

"The information was provided to the prosecution under an immunity agreement. This information came from the defense lawyers, and that information indicated that the remains … could be found in a landfill in Vermilion County," the report quoted Beckett as saying.

Christensen was convicted in a US federal court in Peoria, Illinois, last month and sentenced to life in prison after the jury could not agree on whether he should be executed.

After the sentencing, Zhang's family members stood outside the courthouse to plead with him to reveal the location of the 26-year-old woman's body.

"If you have any humanity left in your soul, please end our torment," said her father, Zhang Ronggao. "Please let us bring Yingying home."

The family, from Nanping, Fujian province, had traveled to Peoria for the trial, during which prosecutors told the court that Zhang got into Christensen's car on June 9, 2017, in Urbana, Illinois, and was taken to his apartment.

There, he bludgeoned her with a baseball bat, raped her and stabbed her in the neck before decapitating her.

Zhang's remains were not recovered, but prosecutors said blood later found in three spots inside Christensen's bedroom matched her DNA.

In late 2017, Christensen's lawyers started negotiating a possible plea agreement with the prosecution in hopes he would be spared the death penalty in exchange for revealing where Zhang's remains were.

Zhang's family said in a statement in June that they had told prosecutors they wanted "truthful" information from Christensen that would allow them to find the remains. But they "were leery" because "he had lied so many times in the past".

After Christensen's sentencing last month, US Attorney John Milhiser said investigators would continue the search for her remains.

"The efforts to locate Yingying have not stopped," he said. "They started two years ago and they'll continue."

Meanwhile, a memorial service scheduled for Zhang at the First Baptist Church at Savoy has been postponed at the family's request, according to the report.

"The family was very apologetic, realizing what we put into planning it," Pastor Chuck Moore said. "We want to do what's in their best interest and when they're ready for it. We're totally supportive of their decision."

Zhang was a postgraduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at the time of her murder.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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