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Trial set in case of vanished scholar

By Wang Linyan in New York and Zhang Ruinan in Urbana, Illinois | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-22 07:30

A man accused of kidnapping Zhang Yingying, a visiting Chinese scholar, will face trial on Sept 12 after pleading not guilty on Thursday in federal court.

Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign, was indicted eight days ago after his arrest on June 30 on a charge of kidnapping Zhang, 26, who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Zhang has not been seen since a security camera showed her entering the passenger seat of the car of the suspect on June 9. Police believe she is no longer alive.

Unlike at two previous hearings, Christensen spoke at the brief proceeding on Thursday. He said he took the drug Klonopin, an antidepressant, when asked by US Magistrate Judge Eric Long if he took any medication in the Macon County Jail in Decatur, Illinois, where he is being held without bail.

He said the medication did not affect his ability to understand the charges against him, according to the Champaign newspaper The News-Gazette.

Anthony Bruno, one of Christensen's attorneys, said after the proceeding that the defendant has demanded a jury trial and "plans to persist in his plea of not guilty".

Bruno said the defense will receive discovery information in the next few weeks from the US Attorney's Office.

"I think this case could go on a year or more," he said.

No new evidence was presented at the hearing on Thursday, which was attended by Zhang's family members. A pretrial hearing was set for Aug 28.

Wang Zhidong, a lawyer representing members of Zhang's family, said the trial will probably be delayed.

"The Speedy Trial Act (of 1974) requires that a trial must be set within 70 days, but either side might file motions requesting more time," Wang said.

"The investigation is still ongoing, and both prosecutors and defense attorneys may have discoveries," Wang said.

Wang said that after the arraignment Thursday, Judge Long would pass the case to US District Court Judge Colin Bruce.

Wang also said Zhang's family members would not return to China without her and are hopeful they will bring her home.

Liu Jun, acting Chinese consul general in Chicago, who attended the arraignment, said the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago will follow the case closely and continue to provide assistance to Zhang's family.

"We urge the police to make this case a priority," Liu said. "It has drawn great attention from the Chinese government and people."

Liu said Zhang's mother will not come to the United States in the near future because she has been sick and has suffered a lot from her daughter's disappearance.

Contact the writers at wanglinyan@chinadailyusa.com

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