Missing scholar's family responds to new indictment

By Zhang Ruinan in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-10-05 11:08

A federal grand jury on Tuesday returned a superseding indictment against former University of Illinois graduate student Brendt Christensen that charges him with kidnapping resulting in the death of visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying, who went missing on June 9.

The family of the missing scholar said they were "extremely pained and saddened" when they were informed that police and prosecutors had obtained more solid and compelling evidence to show why Zhang is presumed dead, according to Wang Zhidong, a lawyer representing the Zhang family.

The family also expressed their relief and appreciation for the progress made by the police and the prosecutors, urging the US judicial system to hold a fair trial and mete out harsh punishment to the suspect.

They said their greatest hope was still to find Zhang and take her back to home.

Missing scholar's family responds to new indictment

The four-page superseding indictment - which adds additional charges to the previous indictment - alleges special findings that Christensen acted "in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim," and that the crime occurred after "substantial planning and premeditation".

If convicted of the charges, Christensen faces the death penalty or mandatory life in prison. The decision on whether the death penalty will be sought is in the hands of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to the US attorney for the central district of Illinois.

Wang said the family has asked the FBI many times to share information with them, and the police and the prosecutors have shared some of their findings to explain why they believed Zhang is dead.

The family would not disclose any information related to the case to make sure the trial is fair, and said they would keep hoping that Zhang is still alive until she is found, Wang said.

Christensen will be arraigned on the charges from the updated indictment on Oct 11 before Magistrate Judge Eric Long, according to Sharon Paul, spokeswoman for the US attorney for the Central District of Illinois.

The indictment also charges Christensen with two counts of making false statements to FBI agents in June, which could result in five years in prison on each charge if convicted.

He was previously charged with kidnapping Zhang on June 9.

"The special findings are factors alleged by the grand jury. There isn't a timeline for release of these allegations; they are part of the case to be considered at trial," Paul wrote in an email to China Daily.

Police still have not located Zhang's body, according to Paul.

Christensen has been held in the Macon County jail since his arrest by US marshals on June 30. His trial date has tentatively been set for Feb 27.

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