First court day for man charged with kidnapping Chinese student

World Today

It was the first day in court for the man accused of kidnapping a Chinese university student, in the U.S. state of Illinois.

He is also suspected of killing 26-year-old Zhang Yingying. The case has shocked thousands of Chinese students at the University of Illinois.

CGTN’s Sean Callebs reports from the courthouse.

Security was high, with the large crowd as a good indication of the attention this case had spawned. Demonstrators chanted calls for justice for Yingying outside the U.S. District Court, in the small town of Urbana, Illinois.

At the same time, wearing a grey and black prison jump suit, Brendt Christensen, made his first appearance in federal court. He’s accused of kidnapping the 26 year-old Zhang Yingying, a Chinese scholar.

Shackled at the ankles, Christensen was not asked to enter a guilty or innocent plea. He only answered briefly with a “yes” when U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long asked if the suspect understood the charges.

“Mister Christensen has been charged by complaint. Therefore, the government has 30 days to seek an indictment by the grand jury,” announced Sharon Paul from the U.S. Attorney Office in the Central District of Illinois.

More about the Yingying Zhang kidnapping

The hearing lasted about nine minutes. Defense attorney Evan Bruno said that his client will have his day in court. “As long as everyone keeps an open mind and listens to the evidence and doesn’t jump to conclusions, I think that will be for the best,” Bruno said.

Another hearing is slated for Wednesday afternoon to determine if Christensen should be free on bail. It’s something many in the community strongly oppose. “We want to make the judge aware that the suspect is dangerous to the community and we don’t want him to make bail,” Chuck Guo, one of the organizers for the demonstration said.

Zhang’s father, aunt, and boyfriend quietly left the proceedings. They’ve been here for two agonizing weeks after making the long trip from their home in Nanping, China.

Attorney for Yingying Zhang speaks on what the family hopes will happen in the case.

The young grad student was last seen in surveillance video, getting into a Saturn Astra. Christensen admitted to the FBI that he gave Zhang a ride, but said he got lost and the girl panicked and jumped out of the car.

Federal authorities said that he’s lying and, based on evidence that is not yet public, they believe Zhang Yingying is no long alive.

Wang Zhidong is an attorney who has been walking the Zhang family through the U.S. legal system. If Christensen eventually faces a murder charge, the family’s mind is made up. “They expressed that their desire for the government to seek the death penalty. That is very clear,” Wang said.

It is a complex case made more difficult by the language barrier. The family has been in the United States for a little more than two weeks and said that they have no idea how long they are prepared to stay in the country. Their number one priority is finding out exactly what happened to the 26-year-old girl.