Wednesday saw the first court appearance in the case of missing Chinese Illinois visiting scholar Ms. Zhang Yinging.
The accused, Mr. Brendt. A. Christensen, 28, pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him. Christensen is accused of kidnap resulting in death and two counts of false statements made to FBI agents.
Christensen spoke before a judge for the first time since the jury returned a superseding indictment made on 3 October, resulting in the much more serious charges mentioned.
Taiwanese news reported Zhang’s parents, brother and boyfriend were all present during the trial. When the accused was led out into the courtroom, Mrs. Zhang reportedly sank to the floor, repeatedly crying out for her daughter.
In his announcement to attendees of the court, the judge spoke of the evidence that was put to the jury; as Christensen was at the time over 18, his intent was to kidnap and cause harm to Zhang by deadly force, the defendant was conscious of his own behaviour yet ignored the risk and caused further harm, which resulted in death.
Ms. Zhang Yingying was a visiting university research scholar, from Nanping city in northwest Fujian province. Zhang arrived in the United States in April of 2017 to assist in research on photosynthesis and crop productivity; she had intended to stay for 1 year before going missing on 9 June.
Surveillance footage shows Zhang waiting at a bus stop near the university before accepting a lift from a supposed stranger. She has not been seen or heard of since. Joint efforts between Illinois police and the university’s large Chinese population were made in the search for her; efforts included the largest amount ever given to Champagne County Crime Stoppers for missing person’s information, which topped $50,000.
Zhang’s family has said they will not leave the United States until she has been found. The family personally wrote a letter directly addressing president Trump requesting federal assistance; no response has been made to date.
Commentary surrounding the case on Chinese Internet highlights similar cases of Chinese people either being attacked, mugged or killed abroad, in particular the United States, and expresses concern for the well being of those wishing to study abroad.
One user commented, “Young women must be on alert, especially in foreign countries”.
Christensen listened to the judge with a calm expression, showing no abnormality in emotion before pleading not guilty.
A final ruling will be heard on 27 February 2018, the judge announced. If convicted Christensen faces mandatory life in prison or the death sentence.