The family of Zhang Yingying, the 26-year-old visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois who has been missing since June, expressed comfort and appreciation when they learned that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had given the green light for prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Brendt Christensen, who is charged with the kidnapping and death of Zhang.
"The family said the tragedy of the crime that has brutally harmed their daughter demands the greatest, ultimate punishment," said Wang Zhidong, a Chicago-based lawyer who is representing the family.
"They express appreciation and respect for the process, including consideration of the family's wishes in arriving at the decision to seek the death penalty in this case," Wang added.
As part of the process of seeking the death penalty in federal cases, the U.S. attorney consults with the victim's family about the decision.
"The family expressed their wishes in seeking death penalty against the suspect when they submitted their views in writing to the U.S. attorney's office," said Wang.
Zhang's family, including her father, mother, brother and boyfriend, returned to China on Nov 13, 2017, after spendingnearly five months in the U.S. awaiting news of Zhang, who had gone missing on June 9. It was reported that Zhang's mother was not in good health and maybe in need of major medical attention.
Wang said that because of the high likelihood that the Feb 27 trial datewould be delayed as a result of seeking the death penalty, the family has not yet made plans to come back to the U.S..
"Once the exact trial date is set, they will come back and attend the trial," Wang said.
"The family's foremost wish has always been to find Yingying and bring her home," Wang said.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the death penalty was abolished in Illinois state court in 2011 after years of allegations of deep flaws in the state's justice system.
"We were disappointed to learn today that the federal government has elected to seek the ultimate penalty of death against a young recent graduate of the UI with no prior criminal record, in a state whose public policy, like most of the civilized world, rejects capital punishment, and for a crime that should more properly be tried in the state courts of Illinois," said Tom Patton, one of the three federal public defenders representing Christensen, in a statement.