UPDATE: Accused kidnapper's trial pushed to April 2019

UPDATE: Accused kidnapper's trial pushed to April 2019

URBANA — The trial for accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen has been pushed back to April 2, 2019.

U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce set the date at a scheduling hearing Monday that lasted about 20 minutes.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 3, 2019, with the actual trial scheduled to begin April 9. Bruce said he expects the trial to last at least five weeks.

Neither the prosecutors nor Christensen’s attorneys objected to the new schedule.

Christensen, who attended the hearing in a dark teal prison jumpsuit but did not speak at it, was arrested June 30, 2017, three weeks after visiting University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, 26, of China, was last seen.

Ms. Zhang’s family’s lawyer in Urbana, Steve Beckett, said he’s notified the family about the new date, but hasn’t yet spoken with them. Ms. Zhang’s family returned to China in November.

“I know that the family understands the process, but on the other hand, I think they’ll be a little bit disappointed because they had hoped it might be in the fall,” Beckett said.

Christensen has been in custody at the Macon County jail in Decatur and was indicted last July on a single charge of kidnapping. This was upgraded in October to kidnapping resulting in death and lying to federal agents, making it a potential capital case.

On Jan. 19, the government filed notice that it would seek the death penalty, leading both sides to agree that a delay would be necessary for the trial previously scheduled to begin Feb. 27.

Prosecutors had asked that the trial be delayed until October, while Christensen’s attorneys sought a delay until June 2019.

Bruce said that an October trial would be “far too soon,” and that June 2019 was slightly too far away.

He said he considered both parties’ motions for proposed trial dates, American Bar Association guidelines, delays in other death-penalty cases, the technical nature of much of the evidence, and the time needed for a mental-health evaluation of Christensen if that was sought.

In their proposal, prosecutors argued for a shorter delay, calling the charge against Christensen “straightforward.”

They also said they’ve already given his lawyers various sets of forensic evidence and don’t expect mental-capacity defenses.

In their proposal for a longer delay, Christensen’s lawyers said their requested date was on the lower end of delays in other federal capital cases and cited their obligation to “fully investigate every potential defense and raise all arguable legal claims.”

That includes investigating Christensen’s social history for any mitigating factors and a comprehensive mental-health evaluation.

Beckett, who has tried two capital cases in state court, said a delay was expected.

“Anybody who knows anything about death-penalty cases should not be surprised. They’re complicated cases with serious issues that deserve serious treatment, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said.

Wanting a clean slate with the new trial schedule, Bruce denied several pretrial motions and said amended versions would need to be refiled, including ones by Christensen’s lawyers to change the venue and drop the main charge against him.

At the hearing, Bruce did not address a request last week by Christensen’s lawyers to file a motion asking Bruce to recuse himself from this case.

Their reasoning for this motion is under seal, and prosecutors have until Thursday to respond.

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Lostinspace wrote on February 12, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Yes, sir, nothing like a speedy trial.  Ridiculous.

camirome wrote on February 12, 2018 at 3:02 pm

A speedy trial is the Defendant’s right.  Not the State’s. 

jaskfd wrote on February 12, 2018 at 5:02 pm

Why don't we know the status of the girl ?


rsp wrote on February 12, 2018 at 6:02 pm

It's a murder trial so it would be expected they can prove she's deceased.

zofaan wrote on February 20, 2018 at 6:02 pm

If anyone is curious, he is currently in the Livingston County jail, not Macon County. That explains the green jumpsuits. 

One court document mentioning a request for palm prints verifies this.