Accused kidnapper's attorneys ask for delay in death-penalty trial

Accused kidnapper's attorneys ask for delay in death-penalty trial

URBANA — Following the government's decision last week to seek the death penalty against accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen, his lawyers are asking to delay the trial.

In a motion filed Tuesday, Christensen's lawyers asked that any pretrial deadlines be removed and that a previously scheduled pretrial hearing be used to discuss a new schedule for the trial.

Prosecutors have until Feb. 2 to respond.

The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 27, though a delay was expected if U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to seek the death penalty.

"Both parties recognize that a February trial date would be impossible and impractical now that this case carries the possibility of capital punishment," Christensen's lawyers wrote.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce said that any responses to other pretrial motions, including motions by Christensen's lawyers to move the trial and drop the main charge against him, won't be required until this motion to delay the trial is resolved.

Christensen, 28, is charged with kidnapping resulting in death in the June 9, 2017, disappearance of University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, 26, of China, as well as lying to federal agents.

He was arrested June 30 and has been in custody since.

Christensen's court-appointed public defenders — Elisabeth Pollock, George Taseff and Robert Tucker — had already stated that the decision to seek the death penalty would prompt them to seek a continuance. And prosecutors have indicated that they will not object.

The potential for the death penalty means more work for all involved, but especially the defense lawyers, who have to prepare for the penalty phase at the same time they are building a defense for Christensen's alleged crimes.