Attorney Argues U Of I Scholar Kidnapping Suspect Deserves Fair Hearing

Jul 6, 2017

The defense attorney for a man accused of kidnapping a University of Illinois scholar from China says his client deserves the "presumption of innocence."

Tom Bruno represents 28-year-old Brendt Christensen, who is accused of kidnapping 26-year-old Yingying Zhang and is jailed pending trial. Authorities believe she's dead, although her body hasn't been found. Christensen was arrested Friday.

Bruno said Thursday that he doesn't think "a negative inference" can be made from prosecutors' statements that Christensen marched in a vigil for Zhang a day before he was arrested.

Prosecutors also say Christensen spoke about how Zhang fought and resisted, and about what makes an ideal victim. Prosecutors haven't given details about to whom Christensen made the statements. Bruno said without a source it's hard to judge whether the statements are reliable. 

 

U.S. District Judge Eric Long ruled Wednesday to hold Christensen without bond until his trial.

 

As that hearing took place, members of Champaign-Urbana’s Chinese community demonstrated outside the courthouse, holding signs with messages like “Justice for Yingying.”

 

Shihao Han, a Chinese graduate student from out-of-town visiting the area, said the incident has enflamed long-standing concerns among the Chinese about their safety in the U.S.

 

“And people believe that the U.S. is not as secure as it is in China,” Han says, “and I think this incident will escalate all those kind of concerns about the U.S. being a not-so-secure place for Chinese students.”

Han thinks those concerns could lead to lower enrollments at the University of Illinois, and other similar college campuses.

Christensen will be back in court July 14th, for a preliminary hearing, where he could answer formal charges in connection with Yingying Zhang’s disappearance.

  • Brian Moline, Jim Meadows and The Associated Press contributed to this report.