Illinois Man Charged With Kidnapping, Death of Chinese Scholar

October 11, 2017 11:18 pm Last Updated: October 12, 2017 8:55 am

CHICAGO—An Illinois man accused of abducting a Chinese visiting scholar at the University of Illinois faces a new charge of kidnapping resulting in death and was arraigned on Wednesday.

Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old visiting scholar from southeastern China at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, disappeared on June 9. Officials believe Zhang is dead, although no body has been found.

Brendt Christensen, a former master’s student at the university, faces one count of kidnapping resulting in death and two counts of making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to an Oct. 3 indictment, which alleged the crime “involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.”

Christensen pleaded not guilty to all charges, the U.S. district clerk’s office in Urbana, Illinois said on Wednesday. A lawyer for Christensen declined comment.

Previously Christensen, 28, was charged with one count of kidnapping and pleaded not guilty in July.

Zhang, who had been studying photosynthesis and crop productivity at the university, was last seen when a security camera recorded her getting into a black car that authorities linked to Christensen, according to court documents.

In this undated file photo provided by the University of Illinois Police Department shows Yingying Zhang. (University of Illinois Police Department)

Christensen was placed under surveillance by federal agents who heard him talking about how he kidnapped Zhang, court records said.

A jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 27, the clerk’s office said. Conviction of kidnapping resulting in death carries a sentence of mandatory life in prison or death.

In August, Zhang’s family asked President Donald Trump to provide additional resources to help find her.

A lawyer for Zhang’s family did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old visiting scholar from southeastern China at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (University of Illinois Police Department)

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.

By Suzannah Gonzales