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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

A 12-person jury could decide as soon as Wednesday whether the former Ph.D. candidate will live out the rest of his natural life behind bars or if he’ll be put to death for the kidnapping and killing of Yingying Zhang.

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Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff's Department)

More than a month after they first began hearing testimony, jurors in the trial of Brendt Christensen are likely to begin deliberating this week over his appropriate sentence: life in prison or death.

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Yingying Zhang, center, stands with her parents at a train station in China in 2017. This marked the last time they saw their daughter alive. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

Defense attorneys called a juror’s actions this week “unprecedented” and sought a mistrial on Wednesday. That request was denied, but the walkout marks one more oddity in the high-profile case.

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Yingying Zhang, center, takes a photo with her father Ronggao Zhang, left, mother Lifeng Ye and fiance Xiaolin Hou. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

As he looked down at a photo of his daughter, Ronggao Zhang could not contain himself. He turned away, inhaled sharply and began crying on the witness stand. Then the man convicted of killing Yingying Zhang did the same.

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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Until this week, jurors knew little about Yingying Zhang, other than how she died. Federal prosecutors on Monday sought to paint a better picture of the visiting Chinese scholar through the words of her friends and loved ones.

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A memorial stone engraved with Yingying Zhang’s name in both English and Chinese on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in June 2019, two years after her disappearance. (Photo by Mark Van Moer) Inset, top: Yingying Zhang (Courtesy University of Illinois Police Department). Bottom: Brendt Christensen (Courtesy Macon County Sheriff’s Department).

As in any criminal case, after a defendant is found guilty, the court moves on to sentencing. But things operate differently when the defendant faces a possible death sentence.

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Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff's Department)

Federal defenders are seeking a four-week delay to review and translate videos of Yingying Zhang and her family if that evidence is allowed at sentencing.

Motion claims offer was made to feds months after Christensen’s arrest

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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Attorneys for Brendt Christensen say he offered to cooperate with investigators and disclose what he did with the Chinese scholar’s remains in return for a life sentence just six months after his 2017 arrest.

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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Brendt Christensen has been found guilty in the kidnapping and death of Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang, setting the stage for what could be the first death sentence handed down within Illinois since the state abolished capital punishment in 2011.

Defendant’s ex-wife says she knows he’s responsible for Yingying Zhang’s death

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The black Saturn Astra Yingying Zhang was seen entering the day she disappeared. (Courtesy FBI) Inset, top: Yingying Zhang (Courtesy University of Illinois Police Department). Bottom: Brendt Christensen (Courtesy Macon County Sheriff’s Department).

The body of Yingying Zhang has never been found, but the vehicle she was last seen entering was allegedly driven hundreds of miles in the days before and after her disappearance. More from the high-profile trial of Brendt Christensen.

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A memorial stone engraved with Yingying Zhang’s name in both English and Chinese on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in June 2019, two years after her disappearance. (Photo by Mark Van Moer) Inset, top: Yingying Zhang (Courtesy University of Illinois Police Department). Bottom: Brendt Christensen (Courtesy Macon County Sheriff’s Department).

Brendt Christensen appeared “excited” and laughed when talking about killing Yingying Zhang, his former girlfriend testified Thursday at Christensen’s death-penalty trial.

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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

During testimony Wednesday, Terra Bullis described her past relationship with Brendt Christensen and how she came to wear a wire for FBI investigators who believe he is responsible for the disappearance of Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.

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A memorial stone engraved with Yingying Zhang’s name in both English and Chinese on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in June 2019, two years after her disappearance. (Photo by Mark Van Moer) Inset, top: Yingying Zhang (Courtesy University of Illinois Police Department). Bottom: Brendt Christensen (Courtesy Macon County Sheriff’s Department).

Federal prosecutors and Brendt Christensen’s defense team are each expected to call their final witnesses before Friday. Among those slated to testify: Christensen’s former girlfriend, who wore a wire for the FBI, and his ex-wife.

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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

“I want to test my limits and experience everything,” Brendt Christensen wrote in his profile on Fetlife.com, a social media site for adults with alternative sexual interests, weeks before Yingying Zhang disappeared.

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Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff's Department)

Illinois banned capital punishment in 2011, but a state resident now faces a possible death sentence in a first-of-its-kind murder trial since that ban took effect. A Northwestern law professor explains how that’s possible.

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Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Reporters are allowed into the courtroom where Brendt Christensen is on trial, but electronic devices are not. Read the court transcript of Wednesday’s stunning opening arguments.

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