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

Two University of Illinois social workers who once treated the man convicted of kidnapping and killing a visiting Chinese scholar claim they cannot be held legally responsible for his “random and incomprehensible actions.”

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In this Monday, June 24, 2019 file photo, Lifeng Ye, the mother of slain University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang, cries out in grief as her husband Ronggao Zhang, left, addresses the media after a jury found Brendt Christensen guilty of Yingying Zhang’s murder, at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Peoria, Illinois. Consoling her is family friend Dr. Kim Tee, center. (Matt Dayhoff / Journal Star via AP, File)

The parents of a University of Illinois scholar from China who was abducted and killed are giving at least $20,000 to people who provided authorities with crucial information that led to the arrest and conviction of their daughter’s killer.

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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 on Aug. 7, 2019.  (Matt Masterson / WTTW News)

After killing the Chinese scholar, Brendt Christensen says he put her body in three separate garbage bags, which he tossed in a dumpster outside his Champaign apartment.

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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)

Yingying’s Fund, created with the support of Yingying Zhang’s family, will serve international students across campus and their families “during times of hardship, when they need it most,” according to the fund’s donation page.

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

The body of Yingying Zhang was never recovered after former University of Illinois doctoral student Brendt Christensen kidnapped and killed her. 

Jury fails to reach unanimous decision in death-penalty case

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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).

A 12-person jury deliberated for more than eight hours over the course of two days in Peoria’s federal courthouse, but failed to reach a unanimous decision in the death-penalty case. 

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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 is in the process of deciding 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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