U.S. judge denies bail to alleged kidnapper of Chinese scholar in Illinois

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2017 5:54 PM

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois man charged with abducting a missing Chinese scholar will remain in jail under a judge's order on Wednesday as the FBI investigates her disappearance.

Judge Eric Long of the U.S. District Court in Urbana, Illinois, denied bail to Brendt Christensen, 28, who was arrested last week in Champaign, Illinois, on kidnapping charges in the June 9 disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, according to court records.

Christensen's attorney, Evan Bruno, could not be reached Wednesday, but said earlier that his client was presumed innocent of the charges. He has not yet been indicted. A preliminary hearing is set for July 14.

No body has been found but authorities have said they believe Zhang is dead, although they have not disclosed why.

Zhang was recorded by surveillance video on June 9 waiting for a bus and then getting in a black car when a motorist pulled up to the bus stop.

The police eventually connected the car to Christensen, who first told investigators he did not recall his whereabouts on that day, but later said he picked up an Asian female and dropped her off a few blocks later.

Federal agents then put Christensen under surveillance and heard him "explaining" that he kidnapped Zhang, according to court documents. A search of the suspect's cellphone also found he had visited a website that included threads on "perfect abduction fantasy," and "planning a kidnapping," according to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutors said they argued at Wednesday's hearing that Christensen was a danger to the community, citing his attendance at a June 29 vigil for Zhang. He was already under federal surveillance at that point, according to the complaint.

Christensen has talked about the characteristics of the "ideal victim," prosecutors said in a statement, and threatened another person who was not identified, but to whom he made incriminating statements.

Prosecutors also said that Zhang "fought and resisted," according to the statement.

Zhang, a scholar in photosynthesis and crop productivity, came to the University of Illinois several months ago. The case has shaken the Chinese community at the university, which draws thousands of students from China.

Zhang's father and other family members traveled from China to join in the search. Her case has garnered news coverage in China.

Christensen graduated from the university in May with a master's degree in physics. Court documents show he is married.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning, editing by G Crosse)