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United States

Suspect pleads not guilty to kidnapping Chinese scholar in US

Judge sets September 12 trial date for 28-year-old Brendt Christensen who denies abducting Zhang Yingying

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 10:59pm

The 28-year-old American man charged with the abduction of a University of Illinois scholar from China has pleaded not guilty.

Brendt Christensen is accused of kidnapping 26-year-old Zhang Yingying in Urbana, 225 kilometres southwest of Chicago, on June 9. He is a recent graduate student in physics at the university.

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Under questioning by US Magistrate Judge Eric Long on Thursday, Christensen revealed he is taking Klonopin “as an anti-depressant”.

He said the medication did not affect his ability to understand the charges against him.

Investigators said Zhang was abducted after she left campus to sign an apartment lease. They said they believe Christensen lured her into his car.

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While investigators have said they believe Zhang is dead, they have yet to find a body and are continuing to look for her.

According to a Xinhua report, Christensen’s lawyer Anthony Bruno said in a statement that his client had “demanded a jury trial and he plans to persist in his plea of not guilty”.

Asked about the worldwide attention the case has received, Bruno said: “bad things happen everywhere. Nowhere else in the US is a person from China more welcome”.

He added that the case could go on a year or more.

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“This result is not unexpected and the case enters into another stage,” US lawyer Wang Zhidong, who has been offering legal support to the Zhang family on a voluntary basis, was quoted by Xinhua as saying outside the court.

The judge set a September 12 trial date for Christensen.

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Zhang, a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was last seen on June 9 getting into a black Saturn Astra driven by Christensen. He was arrested by police on June 30 and charged with kidnapping.

Christensen was indicted on July 12 by a federal grand jury and has been in custody since then.

The FBI said it believes Zhang is dead, based on facts presented in court, court documents and other facts uncovered during the ongoing investigation.