Alleged kidnapper of Chinese scholar to be held without bail

Updated 2017-07-06 11:35:37
Brendt Christensen (middle) , the 28-year-old Illinois man charged with kidnapping Zhang Yingying, and the two images sketched by Lin Yuhui.

Brendt Christensen (middle) , the 28-year-old Illinois man charged with kidnapping Zhang Yingying, and the two images sketched by Lin Yuhui.

Brendit Christensen, charged with kidnapping a visiting Chinese scholar, will be held without bond until trial, ruled a federal judge on Wednesday.

During the second hearing, which lasted about 25 minutes, US Magistrate Judge Eric Long said that Christensen, 28, presents a danger to the community and the risk of non-appearance at future court proceedings.

Christensen, a master's degree holder in physics from the University of Illinois, was arrested on June 30 for reportedly kidnapping Zhang Yingying. Zhang has not been found and police believe she is no longer alive. Sunday marks one month since her disappearance.

According to the allegations in the federal criminal complaint made public during Wednesday hearing, Christensen reportedly talked about the ideal kidnapping victim while under surveillance and there's audio of him describing how Zhang fought and resisted after he brought her back to his Champagne apartment. He also allegedly threatened another person to whom he had made incriminating statements.

"The facts speak to the very danger the defendant presents to the community," Assistant US Attorney Bryan Freres said. "The circumstances of the case indicate the defendant used violence."

China's acting Consulate-General in Chicago Liu Jun said the consulate spoke with the FBI after the hearing on Wednesday and requested them to step up efforts and find Zhang as soon as possible. "This is the most urgent task at the moment," Liu said. "They have put in the best detectives and are working on the case around the clock. But it does take time."

Liu said the consulate will keep following the case and keep focus on two demands of Zhang's family members: finding Zhang as soon as possible and bringing those responsible to justice.

The FBI, the University of Illinois Police Department, the Illinois State Police and local law enforcement are investigating the case. Assistant US attorneys Freres and Eugene Miller are prosecuting the case.

Christensen's defense attorney Evan Bruno said outside the courthouse that the defense team wasn't surprised by the outcome of the hearing. "In a case like this it's not unusual for bail to be denied," Bruno said.

Christensen's attorneys argued for a bail during the hearing, saying that keeping Christensen in the Macon County Jail, which is about an hour away, put them at a disadvantage. "We just wanted the judge to take that into consideration when determining whether this defendant would have the ability to meet with us and work on his case," said Tom Bruno, Christensen's another attorney.

"It's not real evidence at all yet," said Bruno when asked about the evidence presented against Christensen. "One of the founding principles of the American system of justice is the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you. … We're entitled to test that evidence to see if it's reliable."

Members of Zhang's family attended the second hearing on Wednesday and the first hearing on Monday. Christensen in prison jumpsuit remained silent at the hearing.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for July 14, but it could be waived if the grand jury returns an indictment before then.

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