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Scholar kidnapping suspect to enter plea

By Wang Linyan and Zhang Ruinan in New York (China Daily) Updated: 2017-07-20 07:07

The Illinois man indicted by a federal grand jury in the kidnapping of visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying is to be arraigned on Thursday in a federal courthouse in Urbana, Illinois.

Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign, who has a master's degree in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was arrested on June 30, charged with kidnapping Zhang, 26, who attended the same school.

Zhang has not been seen since, and police think she is no longer alive.

Christensen's lawyers have said he will plead not guilty at his arraignment at US District Court in Urbana. He is being held without bail.

If he pleads not guilty, the court will set a trial date, said Wang Zhidong, a lawyer for Zhang's family.

A defense attorney and retired professor, Steve Beckett, joined Wang this week to offer free legal services to Zhang's family.

"I will bring a criminal law perspective to the team to help Zhang's family," said Beckett, who was director of trial advocacy at the University of Illinois College of Law for 31 years.

Thomas Bruno, one of Christensen's lawyers, said, "We will make sure the defendant is well represented and his rights are protected." Bruno is also deputy mayor of Champaign.

The indictment charges that Christensen kidnapped Zhang and held her captive on June 9. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.

China continues to keep a close eye on the case and strongly expects the US court to conduct a fair trial to bring justice to Zhang and her family, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday.

China will continue to provide assistance to members of Zhang's family, Geng said.

Reward money for information leading to Zhang's whereabouts reached $60,000, including $50,000 that was announced by Crime Stoppers and Zhang's family, and $10,000 from the FBI. Crime Stoppers allows the public to report information about crimes anonymously.

Wang said Zhang's family members would be at the hearing on Thursday, and they are still hopeful that she is alive.

"Yingying's father said that the family would not go back to China until they find Yingying," Wang said on Tuesday.

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