Undocumented Workers Fired From Trump’s Golf Clubs Ask Him To Help Them Stay In U.S.Amy Russo•
Iran claimed it brought down the RQ-170 in December 2011 by using cyber techniques to take control of it. Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, called that claim “pure speculation.” The Iranians have made no similar claims regarding the June 20 shootdown, but they have repeatedly stated that the Navy drone — known officially as a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator, or BAMS-D — was in Iranian airspace when they shot it down just east of the Strait of Hormuz.A photo released by Iran in 2011 purports to show Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, left, the chief of the aerospace division of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, listening to an unidentified colonel as he points to a downed U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone. (Photo: Sepahnews/AP U.S. officials have flatly denied this, and former senior officials familiar with missions over the Persian Gulf said it was highly unlikely. First, they said, the BAMS-D, a variant of the RQ-4A Global Hawk modified for ocean surveillance, flies so high that operating a few miles closer to Iran would not confer much of an advantage, particularly as it was probably monitoring the Gulf and the Iranian coastline, not locations deep inside Iran.“The sensors onboard a BAMS-D flying above 50,000 feet can look over a hundred miles on either side,” said Deptula, the retired Air Force general. “The Iranians had just attacked and blown up a Japanese-owned tanker and a Norwegian-owned tanker the week before, so very likely the BAMS-D was collecting information about maritime traffic in the area, and there’s no reason to fly into Iran to do that.”Unlike the RQ-170, the BAMS-D is not a stealth aircraft designed to penetrate denied airspace. “It is a big, slow collector,” said the former senior Central Command official. “It buys you nothing to creep in two miles.”Second, unlike better-known drones like the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, the BAMS-D is not piloted remotely, but is completely autonomous and flies a preprogrammed path guided by a Global Positioning System, making the chance that human error caused it to cross into Iranian airspace very remote, according to the former officials. The possibility of a navigational malfunction was also low, they said. “I guess you could conceive of some kind of a breakdown in the control system, but it would be unusual,” said a former senior Pentagon official. “That stuff is very, very reliable.”The BAMS-D has been flying surveillance missions along the Persian Gulf for at least eight years, according to this official, who said that at one time the drone was flying about nine missions per month under the operational control of Central Command. “It started out as a six-month demonstration deployment and everybody just liked it, and it’s been going on for like eight years now, maybe more,” the official said.A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D) unmanned aircraft system. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images) The U.S. military does “extremely detailed planning” for flights through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow body of water that separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, according to a former Central Command official.“There’s a very specific, detailed route right along the international demarcation line that any and all of those types of activities are conducted along, and not outside those boundaries,” said the former Central Command official. “It’s basically a buffer area to help mitigate even the risk of possible, unintentional, accidental breach of the sovereign national airspace.”
Afghanistan Peace Talks
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. peace envoy to Afghanistan said Saturday that for the first time he can report „substantive” progress on all four issues key to a peace agreement in the country’s 17-year war, calling the latest round of talks with the Taliban the „most productive” so far.
Zalmay Khalilzad said talks with the Taliban had been exclusively about troop withdrawal and anti-terrorism guarantees. But on Saturday, he said the discussions have broadened to include a timeline for both intra-Afghan negotiations as well as a cease-fire. He declined to give details, however. The talks were to resume Tuesday.
Khalilzad said it will ultimately be up to Afghans to decide among themselves the agenda for negotiations as well as the terms of a cease-fire.
So far, the Taliban have refused to talk directly with the current Afghan government, considering it a U.S. puppet. The insurgents, however, have consistently said they will sit down with any Afghan, even a government official, but as an ordinary citizen and not as a government representative.
The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the coalition invaded to oust the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
In a press briefing in Doha, where he has been meeting the Taliban, Khalilzad said he hoped that all-Afghan talks that begin Sunday — also in Doha — will be a precursor to negotiations to hammer out the framework for Afghanistan’s post-war future — what he called the „actual give and take about the future of the country, the political roadmap that will take place during negotiations.”
He said Washington’s „aspiration” is to have that framework in place by Sept. 1 and ahead of the Afghan presidential election scheduled for Sept. 28.
Khalilzad refused to be drawn into specifics but said an agreement on the framework for Afghanistan’s future would be akin to a blueprint that would lay out issues important to all sides in the conflict, including constitutional revisions, interim government versus elections, the fate of militias, a cease-fire and even whether the country should be named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
A visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, at the end of last month seemed to give fresh impetus to peace efforts and Sept. 1 emerged as a target date for a peace deal to end America’s longest running military engagement.
Khalilzad’s appointment last September began the accelerated effort to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s war.
Since then, Khalilzad has held scores of talks with the Afghan government in Kabul and abroad, with the Taliban as well as with Afghanistan’s neighbors — including Pakistan, which has been accused of aiding the insurgents.
Khalilzad said the atmosphere during recent talks was the best yet, with both sides finding shared humor as opposed to previous talks which had on occasion ended in acrimony, shouting and the occasional walk out.
Several prominent Afghan figures left Kabul for Doha on Saturday ahead of much-anticipated all-Afghan talks to begin Sunday. Those discussions are co-sponsored by Germany and Qatar, and include the Taliban.
An April round of intra-Afghan talks were scuttled after the two sides could not agree on participants. The Afghan government had submitted a list of 250 people. The Taliban likened it to a wedding party.
This time the Taliban say 60 people will participate.
Attaullah Rahman Salim, the deputy head of the government’s high peace council, said 64 would be sitting around the table.
The list includes senior members of the government, former mujahedeen who fought the Soviet in the 1980s as well as former government officials, former ambassadors, civil society representatives and a small number of women.
Khalilzad said for the first time the Afghan-to-Afghan talks include senior members of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, even if they are there as ordinary Afghans. Khalilzad said the exchange allows both sides to get to know the other, which he hopes will lead to negotiations.
Participants at the table will be there „on equal footing” and not as government representatives, according to the German and Qatari sponsors of the talks.
Afghan President Ghani, who has been conspicuously quiet about the upcoming intra-Afghan dialogue, has consistently demanded the Taliban talk directly with the government.
Sneaky: America’s F-22 Stealth Fighter Snuck up on an Iranian F-4 Phantom
The National Interest•July 6, 2019
Security, Middle East
Sneaky: America’s F-22 Stealth Fighter Snuck up on an Iranian F-4 Phantom
It was a close call.
Back in 2013, Pentagon press secretary George Little said that an Iranian air force F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 Predator drone flying through international airspace near Iran.
As we reported back then, one of the two F-4 Phantom jets — in service in Iran since the Shah — came to about 16 miles from the Predator, but broke off pursuit after two American planes escorting the drone broadcast a warning message.
It was a close call.
The March 2013 episode happened only a few months after a two Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes operated by the Pasdaran (the informal name of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) attempted to shoot down an American MQ-1 flying a routine surveillance flight in international airspace some 16 miles off Iran.
After this attempted interception, the Pentagon decided to escort drones involved in reconnaissance missions with fighter jets: either F-18 Hornets embarked on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, currently in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility, or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates.
What would that look like? Is that possible?
War Talk: Could U.S. Forces Execute an Amphibious Assault against Iran?
One of the greatest truisms of life is that land wars in Asia are futile. The continent’s vastness allows defenders to trade space for time, extending the logistical lifelines of invaders to the breaking point. This argument holds for Iran, which at a population of one quarter that of the United States and the size of the West Coast is too large for even the largest of modern armies to occupy. But what about an amphibious raid against select targets on Iran’s coastline? Military action against the Islamic Republic is by no means imminent or even on the horizon, but it’s important for the public to understand the tools the Pentagon—and the White House—believe they have in their toolboxes.
As The National Interest noted last week, Iran has a sprawling coastline. At 1,550 miles, Iran’s southern coastline is longer than that of California, Oregon and Washington combined. While such a long sea border is useful for projecting power into the narrow Persian Gulf, it is also a double-edged sword. The downside is that Iran has 1,550 miles of coastline it must defend from a highly capable amphibious force such as the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps trains for a broad spectrum of operations, from pilot and aircraft personnel recovery to full-scale amphibious and airmobile assaults. One type of operation the service specializes in is the amphibious raid: using a small landing force to capture an objective, occupy it for a short period for a specific purpose, and then evacuate back to the sea.
Election 2020 Biden
SUMTER, S.C. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday apologized for recent comments about working with segregationist senators in his early days in the U.S. Senate, saying he understands now his remarks could have been offensive to some.
„Was I wrong a few weeks ago?” Biden asked a mostly black audience of several hundred in Sumter during the first day of a weekend visit to South Carolina. „Yes, I was. I regret it, and I’m sorry for any of the pain of misconception that caused anybody.”
Biden’s comments came as he and rival presidential candidate Kamala Harris were set to circle each other while campaigning Sunday in South Carolina, the first Southern state to vote in next year’s primary and a crucial proving ground for candidates seeking support of black Democrats. Biden defended his record on racial issues and reminded voters of his ties to former President Barack Obama, whose popularity in South Carolina remains high.
The former vice president and the California senator probably will be pressed on their tense debate exchange over race and federally mandated school busing. Though the issue is not at the forefront of the 2020 primary, it could resonate in a state with a complicated history with race and segregation.
Without naming Harris, Biden on Saturday referenced what he characterized as expected attacks from other campaigns eager to take him on.
„I’m going to let my record stand for itself and not be distorted or scared,” Biden said. He recalled his support of Obama’s criminal justice reforms and pointed out areas in which he disagreed, such as the three-strikes policy that led to longer sentences for repeat offenders.
„I’m flawed and imperfect like everyone else. I’ve made the best decisions that I could at the moment they had to be made,” Biden said. „If the choice is between doing nothing and acting, I’ve chosen to act.”
Several Harris supporters in the state said her pointed and personal critique of Biden, who opposed busing mandates in the 1970s, struck a chord in South Carolina. Marguerite Willis, a recent Democratic candidate for governor, said that when Harris spoke in last month’s debate about her own experiences being bused as a child, the entire room where Willis was watching the debate grew quiet.
„Growing up here in South Carolina, that’s meaningful to us,” said Willis, who is white. Schools were segregated when she was a child, and she recalled not meeting a black girl her age until leaving the state for college. „So when she talked about being bused, it was powerful for me and I’m sure it’s powerful for a lot of people here who have experiences of their own.”
On the subject of busing, Biden told voters: „I don’t believe a child should have to get on a bus to attend a good school. There should be first-rate schools of quality in every neighborhood of this nation, especially in 2019 America.”
Biden began a scheduled three-stop swing in South Carolina on Saturday, his third campaign visit to the state. Later Saturday, he addressed more than 250 in Orangeburg and planned to make several stops in Charleston on Sunday.
Biden told Orangeburg voters that President Donald Trump is overtly racist and a divisive president who governs as though „any problem that we have is because of those drug-dealing Mexicans.”
Harris, who planned appearances Sunday in Florence, Hartsville and Myrtle Beach during her ninth trip to the state, has spent more time in South Carolina than any other state in the early primary landscape.
The campaign dynamics have shifted and become more personal since the last time Biden and Harris were in South Carolina.
In the debate, Harris was unrelenting in her criticism of Biden, both his views on busing and his comments about working with segregationist senators.
Biden told CNN in an interview that aired Friday that he „wasn’t prepared for the person coming at me the way she came at me,” noting that Harris knows him and his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who is backing Biden, said he did not believe that the issue would move voters, and that he has heard from some that they felt Harris’ debate attack was „disrespectful.”
„I think it resonates with younger voters who get all their news off Twitter or Facebook. It’s an echo chamber,” Harpootlian said, adding that he believes the state’s primary voters will be older and heavily African American. „Those are Biden’s guys, his men and women. … They want to know what they’re getting. They don’t want a promise of what’s to come in the future.”
„She can’t build herself solely on tearing Joe Biden down,” Harpootlian said. „She took that shot. What’s she offering?”
Harris muddied the debate over busing during a recent campaign swing in Iowa, appearing to tell reporters she now opposes federally mandated busing to address school segregation. Her campaign disputed the notion that she was backtracking from the position she took during the debate, arguing that she supported busing in the 1970s — when Biden opposed it — but believes conditions now make it an issue to be decided by local school districts.
During an appearance Saturday at Essence Fest in New Orleans, an annual music and cultural conference that is the largest gathering of black women in the country, Harris pledged to fight the segregation that she said lingers today.
„There’s still mandatory busing that exists today,” Harris said. „Because we had so much flight. … Segregation persists now not necessarily as a function of legislator. … But just because there has been a drawing out of the resources in public schools. That is one of my highest priorities, and we have got to deal with that.”
The technicalities of those arguments mattered little to J.A. Moore, a South Carolina state representative who is backing Harris and felt a personal connection to her story. Moore said his Aunt Loretta, who called him during the debate, was among an early group of black students to integrate a high school named for Strom Thurmond, a segregationist senator.
„That resonated with a lot of African Americans,” he said. „African Americans in South Carolina have been marginalized, have dealt with all kinds of discriminatory practices.”
For Willis, it may just be that Biden’s political time has passed.
„My view on it is that Joe Biden has had his day,” said Willis. „He’s a good man. I don’t think he’s a racist, personally. But I think that many people can beat Donald Trump and I don’t think we have to have necessarily an old, white guy to do it.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a member of South Carolina’s Legislative Black Caucus who will host Biden for a town hall meeting in Charleston on Sunday, said candidates’ past positions matter as voters weigh who is best positioned to defeat Trump.
Kimpson, who has not endorsed a candidate, said: „It’s one thing for people to get up and talk about what they’re going to do, but one of the barometers for someone espousing what their plans are is to look at what they’ve done in their past.”
Awaiting Biden’s Sumter speech on Saturday, Sue Catanch — a black woman who has lived in Sumter most of her life — said she supports the former vice president in part because of his proximity to Obama. But Catanch, 73, said she wasn’t concerned about any critique of Biden’s past stances, including on busing, and instead admired what she characterized as Biden’s commitment to stay above the fray.
„If you tear one another down, it brings the whole Democratic Party down,” Catanch said. „We have got to back whoever the nominee is, and I pray to God that’s Joe.”
Summers reported from Baltimore. AP National Writer Errin Haines Whack in New Orleans contributed to this report.
China Xinjiang 10 Years On
ISTANBUL (AP) — A decade after deadly riots tore through his hometown, Kamilane Abudushalamu still vividly recalls the violence that left him an exile.
On July 5, 2009, Abudushalamu was hiding with his father on the 10th floor of an office tower in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region that is home to the Turkic Uighur ethnic minority. By a park, he spotted a bus on fire. Then he heard a crack as a motorcycle nearby exploded.
Hours later, when he and his father stepped out to sprint home, he saw crowds of Uighurs stabbing Han Chinese in front of a middle school. The bodies of half a dozen people lay scattered on the streets — just a fraction of the estimated 200 killed that night.
Abudushalamu and tens of thousands of other Uighurs now live in Turkey, cut off from friends and family back home. Analysts say the Urumqi riots set in motion the harsh security measures now in place across Xinjiang, where about 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims are estimated to be held in heavily guarded internment camps. Former detainees have told The Associated Press that within, they are subject to indoctrination and psychological torture.
Abudushalamu was just 9 years old when the riots took place. At the time, he knew he was witnessing something terrible, but he never imagined where the following years would lead.
„I thought Han and Uighur people could be at peace,” he said. „The camps? I never thought that would happen.”
DECADES OF RESENTMENT
The riots started as a peaceful protest.
Weeks before, Han workers killed at least two Uighur migrants in a brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, an industrial city in China’s coastal Guangdong province. The Han workers were angry about the alleged rapes of Han women by Uighur men, though a government investigation later concluded there was no evidence such an assault had taken place.
Images and videos of the brawl quickly circulated among Uighurs back in Xinjiang, including gory scenes of what appeared to be a Han Chinese man dragging a dead Uighur by his hair.
The videos enraged many Uighurs long upset with the Han-dominated government that took control of their region following the Communist revolution in 1949.
The litany of complaints was long: heavy restrictions on religious education, discrimination against college-educated Uighurs looking for jobs, subsidies and benefits for Han migrants to settle on lands once owned by Uighurs.
Among the most odious were threats from state officials of fines or even jail time if parents didn’t send their young, unmarried daughters to work in factories in inner China . „Hashar,” a program that forced farmers to pave roads, dig ditches, and clear land for crops for the government for no pay fueled further resentment.
The killed Uighur workers had been on a state employment program, sent more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from home. For many, their deaths crystallized everything that was wrong about Beijing’s heavy-handed interventionist policies — and the belittling racism they felt they were subjected to by the Han Chinese.
The images spurred Urumqi students to organize a protest on July 5 demanding a government investigation. Demonstrators were stopped by police in the late afternoon, and tensions mounted until officers opened fire, Uighur witnesses say.
Two students present at the protests told AP that they were shot at. One recalled that as he turned and ran, bullets whizzed by his head and others around him dropped to the ground.
Furious Uighurs attacked Han civilians on the streets. An estimated 200 people were killed — stabbed, beaten or burned alive in the melees that followed. Uighurs smashed storefronts, overturned cars and buses and set some ablaze.
THE CRACKDOWN DESCENDS
Abudushalamu hid with his family for days as mobs of Uighurs and Han killed each other in cycles of bloody revenge.
When they stepped outside a few days later, the streets were eerily empty, Abudushalamu said. Then the police arrived and started shooting.
„Two maybe SWAT team (members) came after me and shot at me,” said Abudushalamu, now 19. „The bullet went through right behind my right ear. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”
In the days after the violence on July 5, 2009, Beijing had sent in thousands of troops to restore order. For weeks, they fired tear gas, raided businesses and swept through Uighur neighborhoods to arrest hundreds, many of whom were punished with decades in prison. The entire region of 20 million people was cut off from the internet for months in an attempt to curtail use of social media.
Normality had returned, but Xinjiang was never quite the same. Ethnic divisions hardened. Han Chinese avoided Uighur neighborhoods, and vice versa. Many Han Chinese steered clear of the whole of the region’s south, home to most of Xinjiang’s Uighurs, because they believed it was too dangerous.
Experts say that July 5 and the subsequent crackdown was a „turning point.”
„From that moment on, China took a very hard-line position toward the control of religion and the control of minority ethnic groups in the region,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia. „It increased dramatically its security operation. That really is what led to the situation today.”
UNITED „LIKE POMEGRANATE SEEDS”
In the following years, a series of violent terror attacks rocked Xinjiang and elsewhere. Dozens of civilians were hacked to death at a busy train station in China’s south. A Uighur drove a car into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Forty-three died when men threw bombs from two sports utility vehicles plowing through a busy market street in Urumqi.
When newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in 2014, bombs tore through an Urumqi train station, killing three and injuring 79. In a Xinjiang work conference shortly afterward, Xi called on the state to integrate different ethnicities and remold religion to ward off extremism.
„The more separatists attempt to sabotage our ethnic unity, the more we should try to reinforce it,” state media quoted Xi as saying. China’s ethnicities, Xi said, could and should be united like „the seeds of a pomegranate.”
Already tight limits on religion, culture, education and dress tightened even further, with restrictions on long beards and headscarves and the detentions of prominent Uighur academics and literary figures who were widely considered moderate advocates of traditional Uighur culture.
After a new party secretary was appointed to take control of Xinjiang in 2016, thousands began to vanish into a vast network of prison-like camps. Beijing calls them „vocational training centers” designed to ward off terrorism and root out extremist thoughts, but former detainees describe them as indoctrination centers which arbitrarily confine their inmates and subject them to torture and food deprivation.
That same year, Abudushalamu’s father had taken him to Turkey to study at a boarding school and then returned to China. The following June, he stopped responding to messages, and Abudushalamu never heard from his father again.
Abudushalamu finally discovered his father’s fate last year when an acquaintance in Turkey told him he saw his father in an internment camp. He says he has now heard of more than 50 family members that have been detained in Xinjiang. Researchers estimate the camps now hold 1 million or more Uighurs and other members of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.
Abudushalamu says there is no reason for authorities to „train” his father, a successful businessman who speaks nine languages.
„It’s delusional,” he said. „Why does he still need to be ‘educated?'”
Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario in Bangkok and Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.
This report has been corrected to show that Abudushalamu stepped out of his father’s office the night of July 5, not a few days later.
Flash mob thieves make off with $30,000 in merchandise from North Face store in Wisconsin
A 10-person flash mob made off with up to $30,000 worth of merchandise from a North Face store in Wisconsin this week.
The incident occurred Monday night in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, when the ten men „entered the store with purpose,” Police Chief David Smetana told ABC News. “They were gone from the store within 30 seconds.”
„They knew exactly which area they were going to approach in the store, which clothing items they wanted,” Smetana said.
The incident was captured on surveillance footage. No injuries were reported and no employees of the outdoor gear store were confronted, police said.
Smetana said investigators were working with other police departments where similar events have occurred.
He added that similar acts have happened in the area before, but “not to this level.”
„They grab as many items as they can, and they leave the store in multiple vehicles,” he said. „If you’re lucky enough to catch one of them, the other ones have gotten away at that point.”
Missing Chinese Scholar
CHICAGO (AP) — A federal jury that convicted a former University of Illinois doctoral student of kidnapping, torturing and killing a young scholar from China now must decide if Brendt Christensen should be put to death.
While the state of Illinois, where she was killed, does not have the death penalty, the case was brought under federal law, which does allow capital punishment.
The jury returned a guilty verdict on June 24 after deliberating for less than 90 minutes, in part, because the 30-year-old Christensen’s own lawyers told jurors from the outset that he did kill 26-year-old Yingying Zhang, saying their sole objective was to persuade jurors to spare his life.
The penalty phase, which is set to start Monday, is sure to be more contentious and more emotionally grueling. Here’s a look out how it will work and how it could play out:
Q: HOW DOES IT WORK?
A: The penalty phase is a kind of mini-trial with openings, exhibits, testimony and closings. It’s expected to last at least as long as the verdict phase, around a week and a half. Deliberations over whether Christensen should live or die are almost certain to last longer. If just one juror holds out against the death penalty, he’d be sentenced to life without parole.
The form jurors must fill out at the end of deliberation has multiple sections. The first simply asks if Christensen qualifies for the death penalty because he’s over 18 and intended to kill Zhang.
Later sections are the hard parts.
A section on „aggravating factors” asks jurors, among other things, if Christensen killed Zhang „in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner” and whether he’s shown no remorse. A section on „mitigation factors” asks jurors if aspects of Christensen’s „background, record or character…. mitigate against imposition of a death sentence.”
Q: WHAT ABOUT EVIDENCE?
A: The rules of evidence are looser in the penalty phase. Hearsay, opinion and emotion aren’t automatically prohibited. Zhang’s parents, for instance, are expected to testify about how their daughter’s death has devastated their own lives . They could talk about how she dreamed of becoming a crop-sciences professor.
Both parents have said they want death for Christensen. But jurors aren’t supposed to vote for a death sentence out of sympathy for or to give comfort to the family.
Q: WHAT IS THE PRIMARY QUESTION JURORS MUST ANSWER?
A: They must assess whether aggravating factors presented by prosecutors in how Christensen killed Zhang and the impact her death has had on others „sufficiently outweigh the mitigating factors,” the penalty-phase form says. If jurors decide the aggravating factors are greater, they should vote for execution. If they decide enough mitigating factors tip the scale the other way, they should opt for the life sentence.
Q: WHAT WILL PROSECUTORS SAY?
A: Jurors already heard during the verdict phase how Christensen carried Zhang into his apartment in a 6-foot duffle bag, raped, stabbed and choked her, then beat her to death with a bat and decapitated her.
Prosecutors will emphasize Christensen’s meticulous pre-planning and how he seemed proud of what he’d done. They could mention Christensen’s boast he killed 12 others before — not to suggest the claim is true but to show he has that aspiration and would continue to pose a threat, even to fellow inmates.
Prosecutors are likely to emphasize the Christensen’s high intelligence, as shown by his master’s degree in physics, arguing he had faculties to know what he did was wrong.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE DEFENSE?
A: The defense has the bigger challenge given the grisly details jurors know from the verdict phase.
Defense lawyers are expected to tell jurors Christensen knew his homicidal fantasies months before he killed Zhang weren’t right and sought help from U of I mental health counselors. They have alleged the school didn’t do enough to help.
They are also likely to broach Christensen’s childhood and his heavy alcohol use leading up to Zhang’s slaying. They could call on friends or relatives to speak of any acts of kindness or charity by Christensen in his past.
Q: DO WE KNOW WHERE JURORS STAND ON THE DEATH PENALTY?
A: Those who categorically oppose capital punishment or believe it should be imposed on someone convicted of killing without exception can’t serve as jurors in federal death-penalty trials and were weeded out in jury selection. While jurors are supposed to strictly adhere to criteria laid out on the penalty phase form, many are likely to be hesitant about casting votes that could result in someone being put to death.
Getting 12 jurors to agree on imposing the ultimate punishment can be difficult. The life of Jodi Arias, convicted in an Arizona court for the 2008 slaying of Travis Alexander, was spared after one juror refused to vote for the death penalty after five days of deliberations.
Q: WILL CHRISTENSEN SPEAK?
A: He could. But how is a point of disagreement. The defense wants Christensen to be able to make a statement, perhaps to apologize to Zhang’s family. Prosecutors said he should only be able to speak from the witness stand and that prosecutors should be able to cross-examine him.
He may also want to reveal what he did with Zhang’s remains, which have never been found. That could be risky. He is heard on secret FBI recordings telling his girlfriend Zhang’s remains were „gone forever.” Far from crediting him for revealing how he disposed of the body, jurors could end up being more repelled.
The defense asked a judge to bar anyone from testifying that Christensen refused to help find Zhang’s remains, saying their client offered after his arrest to plead guilty and divulge where her remains were in exchange for a life sentence.
Q: WHAT ABOUT APPEALS?
A: Just because someone is sentenced to death in the federal system, doesn’t necessarily mean the person will die — at least not anytime soon. Appeals can delay executions by decades.
Since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, 78 people were sentenced to death — but only three have actually been put to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center data to 2018.
Federal executions are by lethal injection.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mtarm