Accused kidnapper's lawyers lament glut of evidence

Accused kidnapper's lawyers lament glut of evidence

CHAMPAIGN — After arguing in January that prosecutors hadn't provided them with enough forensic analysis, lawyers for accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen are now arguing they have been given too much evidence.

"As of this date, the defense has received approximately 11,500 pages of written discovery, 58 disks containing audio and video recordings, photographs, computer and telephone forensics, telephone records, and hundreds (if not thousands) of jail calls and text messages involving the defendant and at least one government witness," Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock wrote Friday in a court filing.

Christensen's attorneys had until Friday to file motions contesting discovery matters, one of the first in a long series of deadlines before his death-penalty trial is scheduled to begin in April 2019.

Christensen was arrested June 30, 2017, on kidnapping charges, three weeks after visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang was last seen. Later, the government amended the charge to kidnapping resulting in death, even though Ms. Zhang's body has not been found. Christensen is also charged with lying to federal agents.

In an attempt to bar expert testimony, his lawyers said in January that they had received only one set of test results from the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va.

In response, prosecutors denied that, noting they had provided more than 500 pages of DNA and blood evidence, a hard-disk drive containing "vast amounts of raw electronic evidence," a copy of the fingerprint analysis report, law-enforcement reports, and cellphone records. U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce agreed with them.

With this latest pretrial motion, Christensen's lawyers say they've been overwhelmed with the amount of evidence they've received and want prosecutors to disclose which evidence they'll use at trial.

Not doing so "unfairly forces defense counsel to defend against the entirety of the enormous volume of government discovery in this case, and to unnecessarily expend time and labor searching for and/or anticipating what 'needles in the government's haystack' of discovery and evidence it intends to offer" at trial, Pollock argued.

Such evidence would be subject to motions to suppress evidence that need to be filed by Aug. 24.

"Such notice will meet the purpose of the rule to reduce the needless filing of suppression motions that are not at issue and will conserve valuable court resources by avoiding litigation on irrelevant searches or interviews," Pollock wrote.

Christensen's lawyers argue that in previous court cases, judges have ruled that it's not sufficient to simply provide all the evidence while not saying what will be relied on at trial, "because the defendant is still left in the dark," the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 1995.

Christensen is represented by Pollock, who is based in Urbana; George Taseff, based in Peoria; Robert Tucker, based in St. Louis; and Julie Brain, based in Philadelphia.

Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to begin April 3 next year, with the actual trial scheduled to begin April 9.