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Prosecutors to seek death penalty in missing U of I scholar case

This photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff's Office in Decatur, Illinois, shows Brendt Christensen, who is accused of kidnapping resulting in the death of University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang from China. Christensen's attorney filed 12 pretrial motions on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, including six to suppress or exclude evidence they say was illegally or improperly obtained. | Macon County Sheriff's Office via AP File

U.S. prosecutors told a judge Friday they will seek the death penalty for a 28-year-old man charged with the kidnapping and killing of a University of Illinois scholar from China, also broaching new allegations that he choked and sexually assaulted someone five years ago.

Federal prosecutors filed a notice Friday with the U.S. District Court in central Illinois. It cites, among other factors, that Brendt Christensen’s alleged killing of 26-year-old Yingying Zhang involved torture.In a new revelation, the filing accuses Christensen of other serious acts of violence in the past, saying he “choked and sexually assaulted” someone in central Illinois in 2013. The filing adds that he “expressed (a) desire to be known as a killer.”Christensen is charged in the kidnapping and death of Zhang, who disappeared June 9 on her way to sign an apartment lease. Federal prosecutors claim that Zhang, who arrived on campus last April, had missed a bus when Christensen lured her into his car. Surveillance video showed her getting into the front seat of a black Saturn Astra the FBI alleges was cleaned in a way to conceal evidence. Zhang’s body hasn’t been found, but authorities say that have evidence she’s dead.

Christensen’s trial is slated to begin Feb. 27. He has pleaded not guilty.

Friday’s five-page filing also cites as factors in seeking capital punishment the “heinous, cruel, or depraved manner” of the crime and that it involved “planning and premeditation,” as well as what the document says is Christensen’s “lack of remorse.”

‘A message seeking comment from Christensen’s attorney, Robert Tucker, wasn’t immediately returned.