Former Illinois doctoral student, Stevens Point native convicted in federal death penalty trial

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PEORIA, Ill. (AP) PEORIA, Ill. (AP) -- The Latest on the trial in the slaying of a visiting Chinese scholar (all times local):

2:10 p.m.

Jurors have convicted a former University of Illinois doctoral student in the slaying of a visiting scholar from China who was abducted at a bus stop as she headed to sign an off-campus apartment lease.

The guilty verdict Monday was expected because Brendt Christensen's attorneys acknowledged from the start that he raped and stabbed Yingying Zhang in June 2017. Prosecutors say he beat her to death with a baseball bat and decapitated her.

The case now heads to the sentencing phase to determine whether he should receive the death penalty. Illinois no longer has capital punishment, but because it's a federal case that is an option.

The judge has said there will be a break of a week or more before the penalty phase, which could last several weeks.

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1:45 p.m.

Jurors have reached a verdict in the trial of a former University of Illinois doctoral student charged with kidnapping and killing a 26-year-old woman who was a visiting scholar from China in 2017.

The federal court clerk in Peoria sent an email Monday afternoon saying the jury has made a decision in the case against Brendt Christensen. The clerk said court is scheduled to reconvene about 2 p.m.

The case is being closely followed in China and by Chinese students in the U.S.

Defense attorneys began the trial by admitting Christensen killed Yingying Zhang in 2017. It's part of a strategy to try to persuade jurors to spare the 29-year-old Christensen's life. If jurors convict Christensen they must then decide whether he should be sentenced to die. The penalty phase could last weeks.

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12:30 p.m.

Jurors are deliberating in the trial of a former University of Illinois doctoral student charged with kidnapping and killing a 26-year-old visiting scholar from China.

The jury started considering the case against Brendt Christensen just before noon Monday after closing arguments in Peoria federal court. Defense attorneys began the trial by admitting Christensen killed Yingying Zhang in 2017. It's part of a strategy to try to persuade jurors to spare the 29-year-old Christensen's life.

The judge said he would give 30 minutes notice when the jury has reached a verdict. The case is being closely followed in China and by Chinese students in the U.S.

If jurors convict Christensen they must then decide whether he should be sentenced to die. The penalty phase could last weeks.

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12 a.m.

Closing arguments are set for the federal death penalty trial of a former University of Illinois doctoral student charged with kidnapping and killing a 26-year-old visiting scholar from China.

Monday's closings follow a week and a half of testimony. If jurors convict Brendt Christensen, they must then decide whether he should be sentenced to die for beating Yingying Zhang to death with a baseball bat in 2017. The penalty phase could last weeks.

Defense attorneys began the trial by admitting Christensen killed Zhang. It's part of a strategy to try to persuade jurors to spare Christensen's life.

The case is being closely followed in China and by Chinese students in the U.S.

Champaign-based University of Illinois has more than 5,000 Chinese students, among the largest enrollments in the nation.