Accused kidnapper's attorneys want trial delayed until October 2018

Accused kidnapper's attorneys want trial delayed until October 2018

URBANA — Regardless of whether the government seeks the death penalty, attorneys for accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen say they need several more months to prepare his defense.

In a 22-page response filed late Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Public Defenders George Taseff, Elisabeth Pollock and Robert Tucker asked federal Judge Colin Bruce to push the trial for the former University of Illinois graduate student back to October 2018.

The judge has taken the request under advisement, so it's unknown when he might act.

Last week, attorneys for the government told the judge they would be ready to try Christensen for the kidnapping resulting in death of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang, 26, in late February. She disappeared on June 9 from Urbana. Christensen was arrested and June 30 for her kidnapping. Later, the government amended the charge to kidnapping resulting in death even though Ms. Zhang's body has not been found.

The government maintains the February 27 trial date should stand unless the government files its "notice of intent to seek death," referred to in the court documents as the NOI.

The government proposed a Feb. 1 date by which to file the NOI and said if it does seek the death penalty, another trial date could be obtained then.

Defense lawyers think that's a bad idea to wait until then.

"Setting aside the potential capital aspect of this case, upon conviction this twenty-nine-year old defendant, with no prior criminal history and a recent graduate of a Master's Program at the University of Illinois, faces a minimum sentence of life without parole ... This places an enormous responsibility on defense counsel, two of whom have full caseloads requiring travel throughout the large geographic area of the Central District of Illinois," the public defenders wrote.

The lawyers argued that based on what the government has already given them, they are looking at "uniquely time-consuming avenues of investigation ahead."

Giving a brief peek into what prosecutors have, the defense lawyers said the reports they have seen contain several "purported sights of the alleged victim around the country, reports that unknown suspicious individuals were lurking around or surveilling the alleged victim's apartment on the day of or day before her disappearance, reports that accounts associated with the alleged victim were logged into after her disappearance, etc."

Prosecutors have also submitted for scientific testing a lot of physical evidence that came from Christensen's car, apartment and his person.

That includes DNA from Christensen, his wife, Ms. Zhang, her father and her boyfriend; two of Christensen's laptop computers; electronic devices belonging to him and his wife; Ms. Zhang's computer; fingerprints; trace evidence including fibers, chothings, shoes, furniture, appliance and carpet samples from Christensen's home and car; Christensen's telephone records; and his email records.

While much of that evidence was seized almost five months ago, reports have not been completed and turned over to the defense.

Conceding that the government attorneys are at the mercy of experts' schedules, the defense said it takes issue "with the government's apparent assumption that the defense should just be prepared to go forward irrespective of the same problems of delay likely to be encountered by the defense, who, after all, do not have a host of government agencies at its beck and call."

"As noted, the government has already been examining forensic evidence between four and five months without producing reports and there is no reason to think the defense will be able to proceed on this front any more expeditiously. And, as noted, the forensics are only a piece of the preparation counsel must address in this case," the lawyers wrote.

Sections (2):News, Local

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
lcoil79 wrote on November 08, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Wonder if they'd consider telling "Where the body might be." in exchange for an extension to prepare for possible death penalty trial.  Otherwise, no extension and death penalty trial gauranteed and current timelines was enough to prepare.

jparks wrote on November 08, 2017 at 10:11 pm

lcoil, here is a thought. Go with me on this. I am no attorney but I think if he told them "where the body might be" he might be jeopardizing his "not guilty" plea.  Not sure.  Again, no attorney here, but I am leaning toward the possibility that by telling the authorities where the body is might trump his defense of.....what body?

Khristine wrote on November 08, 2017 at 2:11 pm
Profile Picture

If the feds want to expedite this trial then they need to expedite turning over all the information to the defense. This is one case I’d like to see all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted. If the playing field isn’t level this defendant will appeal, possibly win and all this will be for not. A good conviction of this creep is better than a fast one. 

camirome wrote on November 08, 2017 at 8:11 pm

Icoil79 I’m glad you’re a legal expert.  Perhaps you should volunteer as one of his attorney’s since you obviously know so much about what it takes to mount a murder defense.