Christensen facing either life in prison or death penalty if found guilty


Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Police Department

Photo of Brendt Christensen, alleged kidnapper and killer of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang. Recent court documents revealed Christensen visited the University Counseling Center three months before Zhang’s disappearance.

By Jessica Bursztynsky, News editor

A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Brendt Christensen, former University physics student, according to a statement sent out from FBI spokeswoman Sharon Paul.

The superseding indictment now issues charges of kidnapping resulting in death of Yingying Zhang, a visiting scholar, and an additional two counts of making false statements to the FBI in June. This indictment takes the place of the originally obtained indictment on July 12.

“(T)he indictment alleges special findings that Zhang’s death occurred during the commission of a kidnapping; that Christensen committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim; and, that Christensen committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person,” Paul wrote.

When referring to the false statements, the superseding indictment charges Christensen of initially lying to the FBI by saying he stayed in his apartment and played video games. After being questioned again, he said he later dropped off an “Asian female.”

Christensen is facing up to five years for each count of false statements, if convicted.

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    Christensen’s former attorneys were granted a request to leave the case on Sept. 10 because Christensen could not provide the funds to pay for representation against higher charges. Christensen was initially facing one count of federal kidnapping.

    A violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1201, or kidnapping, says that a person “shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life and, if the death of any person results, shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.”

    Though Zhang’s body has not been found, the FBI said on June 30 she was presumed dead.

    If prosecutors can prove that Zhang’s death resulted from Christensen’s alleged kidnapping, then he would be facing life in prison or the death penalty, even if he has not been formally charged with murder. Since federal law overrides state law, Christensen could still face the death penalty.

    If found guilty, the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will decide whether to seek the death penalty.

    Christensen’s trial is set for Feb. 27, 2018.

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