Kidnapping suspect pleads not guilty, again

By Zhang Ruinan in Urbana, Illinois | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-10-12 10:33

Kidnapping suspect pleads not guilty, again

The boyfriend of missing scholar Zhang Yingying and her father leave the federal courthouse in Urbana, Illinois on Wednesday. ZHANG RUINAN / CHINA DAILY

The suspect charged with kidnapping resulting in the death of missing Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying pleaded not guilty in federal court on Wednesday.

The grand jury had returned a new indictment on Oct 3 that charged Brendt Christensen, 28, with kidnapping resulting in death, and of lying to federal agents.

Zhang's mother, who traveled to the United States from China, was in the courtroom for Wednesday's hearing. Upon seeing Christensen, Ye Lifeng burst into tears and screamed in Mandarin, "Give me my daughter back!" at the defendant in the courtroom.

It was the first time Zhang's mother saw Christensen face to face, and it was too much for her to handle. She was helped out of the courtroom before the eight-minute arraignment.

The new indictment alleges that Christensen intentionally killed the 26-year-old woman in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse" and that her death occurred "after substantial planning and premeditation". Zhang has been presumed dead by authorities.

Christensen was initially charged with Zhang's kidnapping and pleaded not guilty to that charge in July.

The prosecutors said Christensen faces the death penalty or mandatory life in prison if he's convicted of kidnapping resulting in death, and if he is convicted on the false statement charges, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The new indictment also said Christensen told FBI agents that he stayed at his apartment, slept and played video games all day on June 9. The indictment said that was a lie and that he had picked up Zhang as she waited for a bus in Urbana.

The decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be up to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Magistrate Judge Eric Long said the trial date would remain Feb 27, as previously scheduled.

Christensen has been held in the Macon County Jail in Illinois since he was arrested on June 30. Christensen told the judge he was taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication when asked if he was taking any medication while in federal custody at the jail.

Wang Zhidong, the lawyer representing Zhang's family, said he was not surprised by Christensen's decision to plead not guilty.

Wang said he and the family have talked with the prosecutors, and the prosecutors were "very confident" of the evidence they've found related to the charges.

"The family said they were extremely pained and saddened, and every day for them is more like a year," said Wang.

"The FBI said they are still trying and would never give up searching," Wang added.

Reuters contributed to this story.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349