Grand jury charges Christensen of ‘kidnapping resulting in death’

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Grand jury returns superseding Brendt Christensen indictment with kidnapping resulting in death FILE PHOTO: Brendt Christensen, 28, arrested in connection with the disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, on June 9, 2017, is shown in this booking photo in Champaign, Illinois, U.S., provided July 5, 2017. Courtesy Macon County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

UPDATE 10/04/17: The Zhang family issued a short statement in response to the grand jury’s decision

First, we are sorrowful and grieved after we learned that the FBI and the prosecutors have acquired more and stronger evidence to show that Yingying had left us. Second, we appreciate and grateful to the work that the police and the prosecutors have done. We hope that the suspect will receive the punishment he deserves, soon. Lastly, and also our greatest wish, is still to find Yingying as soon as possible, so we can bring her home.

Grand jury returns superseding Brendt Christensen indictment with kidnapping resulting in death

The following is the full text of a press release from the U.S. Dept. of Justice on the charges against Brendt A. Christensen.

A federal grand jury today returned a superseding indictment against Brendt A. Christensen, 28, of Champaign, Ill., that charges him with the kidnapping resulting in death of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang on June 9, 2017. In addition, the indictment charges Christensen with two counts of making false statements to FBI agents in June 2017.

Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick D. Hansen and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Cox, Springfield Division, announced the indictment return.

Christensen was previously indicted on the charge of kidnapping in that Christensen allegedly kidnapped and held Yingying Zhang, identified as Y.Z. in the indictment, on June 9, and that he used a cellular telephone and Saturn Astra motor vehicle, both instruments of interstate commerce, to commit and in furtherance of the commission of the offense; the superseding indictment adds the allegation that the kidnapping resulted in the death of Zhang. If convicted, for kidnapping resulting in death, the penalty is death or mandatory life in prison.

The decision as to whether the government seeks the death penalty rests solely with the U.S. Attorney General. The Department of Justice has established federal death penalty procedures. The procedures include a review process conducted by the department’s Capital Case Section. The decision-making process remains confidential until the U.S. Attorney General makes a decision as to whether or not to seek the death penalty.

The superseding indictment returned on Tuesday alleges special findings including: that Christensen was more than 18 years of age at the time of the offense; that the defendant intentionally killed the victim; that the defendant intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury that resulted in the death of the victim; that the defendant intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person, and the victim died as a direct result of the act; and, that the defendant intentionally and specifically engaged in an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person, such that participation in the act constituted a reckless disregard for human life and the victim died as a direct result of the act.

Christensen was arrested and charged by criminal complaint on June 30. On July 5, U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric I. Long ordered that Christensen remain detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial. On July 12, the grand jury returned the initial indictment of Christensen. The pending trial date for Christensen is Feb. 27, 2018, in Urbana.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the University of Illinois Police Department are conducting the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bryan D. Freres and Eugene L. Miller are representing the government on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Urbana Division.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Read the full superseding indictment: