CHICAGO, Illinois -- There is new information in a murder case shrouded in secrecy and international intrigue -- but lacking a body - that reveals more about what may have been the final moments of Yingying Zhang's life.
The 26-year-old Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois' flagship Urbana campus disappeared on June 9, 2017. Running late for a lease-signing appointment, Zhang had just missed a bus when then 27-year-old Brendt Christensen, a former physics PhD student at the university, allegedly lured her into his car, prosecutors say.
Federal prosecutors now say traces of Zhang's blood were found in Christensen's Champaign apartment. Authorities also found a bloody handprint and evidence that blood may have been washed down the apartment plumbing. It's unclear, however, whether the handprint belonged to Zhang or Christensen.
Authorities say that the use of a cadaver-sniffing dog will also help prove the Chinese scholar was tortured and killed in Christensen's apartment. The dog detected that a dead body had been near the bathroom sink, prosecutors say.
Christensen's attorneys are challenging the blood tests used in his apartment. They want the judge to bar much of that evidence and argue the dog was unreliable because it wasn't properly trained.
A hearing is scheduled for next Monday in Peoria, where the trial was moved.
Prosecutors are seeking the federal death penalty in a case normally handled by state prosecutors.
During the weeks after Zhang's disappearance, police suspected Christensen but had no evidence to arrest him.
As the I-Team first revealed more than a year ago, investigators closed in on Christensen after convincing his girlfriend to wear a wire. She secretly recorded hours of their conversations in the weeks following Zhang's disappearance -- conversations during which the suspect discussed his role in the abduction/murder, sources told the I-Team.
Christensen allegedly confessed to the killing in one of those conversations and described how Zhang fought back when he attacked her, according to court filings.
He is also said to have described his 'perfect victim' by pointing them out in the crowd at the vigil for Zhang, where he was filmed walking hand in hand with the woman.
Christensen also allegedly tried to lure another student into his car on the day Zhang went missing.
Christensen is being held without bond at the Livingston County Jail. His trial is scheduled to begin April 1.
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