Attorneys seek trial delay for man in Chinese scholar case | Updated: 2017-10-27 04:56

Attorneys for a man accused of abducting and killing a University of Illinois scholar from China have asked for more time to prepare his defense.

Former graduate student Brendt Christensen, 28, is charged in the June kidnapping and death of Yingying Zhang, 26, a visiting scholar from China engaged in agricultural research at the university. A February trial is scheduled. Zhang's body hasn't been found, and she has been presumed dead by authorities.

Christensen has been in the custody of the federal marshals since June 30. The News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign reported that Christensen's public defenders on Tuesday asked for a trial delay so they can prepare a thorough defense. The attorneys noted the average time between indictment and trial in federal death penalty prosecutions is 28 months.

Judge Colin Bruce gave prosecutors until Nov 3 to respond to the defense request.

Wang Zhidong, the lawyer representing Zhang's family, told China Daily on Thursday that it wasn't unexpected that the suspect's attorneys would ask for a trial delay. "It's very unlikely the trail date will remain on Feb 27," Wang said. "And the Zhang's family feel upset and without being able to do anything about it."

Christensen was initially charged with kidnapping and pleaded not guilty to that charge in July. A grand jury returned a new indictment on Oct 3 that charged him with kidnapping resulting in death, and of lying to federal agents. He pleaded not guilty in federal court.

Zhang's mother traveled to Urbana from China for the hearing. Upon seeing Christensen, Ye Lifeng burst into tears and screamed in Mandarin, "Give me my daughter back!" at the defendant. Ye had to be helped from the courtroom before the eight-minute arraignment.

The new indictment alleges that Christensen intentionally killed Zhang 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".

Prosecutors said Christensen faces the death penalty or mandatory life in prison if he is convicted of kidnapping resulting in death.

Wang has said that Zhang's family has talked with prosecutors, and the prosecutors were "very confident" of the evidence they have found related to the charges.

China Daily, AP

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