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Man pleads not guilty to new charge in Chinese scholar case

By Zhang Ruinan in Urbana, Illinois | China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-13 07:59

The suspect charged with kidnapping 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 the hearing. Upon seeing Christensen, Ye Lifeng burst into tears and screamed in Mandarin, "Give me my daughter back!" at the defendant.

Ye, clearly overcome by seeing Christensen face-to-face for the first time, had to be 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 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.

Magistrate Judge Eric Long said the trial date would remain for Feb 27.

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

ruinanzhang@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 10/13/2017 page12)

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