Trial date set in kidnap-murder case of missing Chinese student Yingying Zhang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 3:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 4:42am

A federal judge has set an April 2019 trial date for a former physics student accused of kidnapping and killing Zhang Yingying, a University of Illinois student from China.

The Champaign News-Gazette reports that US District Court Judge Colin Bruce set the date during a hearing on Monday. Prosecutors announced on January 19 that they would seek ythe death penalty in the case.

They say Brendt Christensen allegedly tortured 26-year-old Zhang before killing her.

Neither prosecutors nor Christensen’s lawyers objected to the new trial date. The trial had been expected to begin later this month, but both prosecutors and defence lawyers requested that it be delayed.

Christensen was arrested last June, three weeks after Zhang disappeared. Her body has not been found. Christensen has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping resulting in death.

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In a filing last week, Christensen’s lawyers had attempted to argue that the case is so complex that they’ll need until June 2019 to prepare for trial, including to potentially research their 28-year-old client’s genealogy and prenatal care.

Prosecutors, mean while, wanted a trial much sooner - in October.

Both sides agreed, however, that the previously scheduled February 24 trial date had to be struck after prosecutors announced in they would seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors say that capital punishment is justified due to allegations Christensen tortured Zhang before killing her. 

Capital punishment is available in federal cases – but rarely sought. The state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011.