Judge denies defense's request to delay accused kidnapper's trial

Judge denies defense's request to delay accused kidnapper's trial

URBANA — U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce has denied a request by attorneys for accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen to delay his trial a year.

The trial remains set for Feb. 27, 2018, and the government has to decide whether to seek the death penalty by Feb. 1.

Bruce did not directly address what would happen if the government does seek the death penalty.

“The court finds that granting a continuance of the extreme length requested by Defendant (a trial date over a year after the Federal Defender’s Office was appointed) is unwarranted. In fact, such a continuance would be an abuse of discretion,” Bruce wrote in his 10-page decision issued Wednesday afternoon.

Christensen was arrested June 30 on kidnapping charges in the June 9 disappearance of visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang, 26, of China. Later, the government amended the charge to kidnapping resulting in death even though Ms. Zhang's body has not been found. He is also charged with making false statements.

In their request for a delay until October 2018, Christensen’s lawyers, who were appointed in September, said the case would require “time-consuming avenues of investigation.”

They also said they have yet to receive reports from scientific testing of the physical evidence in the case.

In his decision, Bruce downplayed the complexity of the case.

“This is not a case involving extensive, highly technical computer forensics, nor is this a fraud-related case involving thousands upon thousands of pages of documentary evidence,” he wrote. “Here, the questions are straightforward: did Defendant commit a kidnapping of Yingying Zhang that resulted in her death and did Defendant provide false statements during the investigation?

“Based upon the issues and descriptions of the evidence involved in this case, the court finds that this is not a complex case requiring more than the five and a half months for Defendant to prepare.”

Despite this, Bruce did order prosecutors to provide Christensen’s attorneys with forensic evidence analysis and written summaries of expert testimony by Dec. 15 “in order for Defendant to have a meaningful opportunity to understand this evidence and perhaps engage his own experts.”

The trial was originally scheduled to begin in September, but both Christensen’s attorneys and the U.S. Attorney’s Office wanted a delay.

When Bruce granted the delay to February, he said he would be “very reluctant to grant a continuance beyond that date.”

In his decision Wednesday, he said that another delay, “particularly after granting a previous continuance ... would be a significant inconvenience to the court. The court has already indulged both parties with an unusually long continuance, which disrupted other cases set for trial.”

Bruce’s decision was made on the premise that the Department of Justice isn’t seeking the death penalty. If it does, Bruce said, “the court would welcome a renewed motion to continue the trial from Defendant (or the Government) in order for appropriate dates to be established under those circumstances.”

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