Officer to Christensen: 'I know you picked her up'

Officer to Christensen: 'I know you picked her up'

URBANA — Two weeks before Brendt Christensen was arrested for allegedly killing and kidnapping visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, FBI agents appeared at his door about 11:45 p.m. June 14, 2017, to search his car.

They ended up interviewing him at an FBI office shortly after midnight, when he changed his story about what he was doing the day Ms. Zhang went missing.

Instead of saying he was sleeping or playing video games, as FBI agents said he initially did, Christensen said he picked Ms. Zhang up and dropped her off a few blocks away.

Part of that videotaped interview was played in court Monday in Urbana as U.S. District Judge James Shadid weighs motions by Christensen's lawyers to suppress evidence from Christensen's apartments, statements he made to FBI agents and recordings made by his girlfriend wearing a wire.

In the video, an FBI agent and a University of Illinois Police Department officer questioned Christensen after he signed a waiver form.

He was told investigators knew he wasn't at his apartment because his car was seen on survillance footage picking up Ms. Zhang.

"I know you picked her up," the UI police officer said in the video, before asking where Christensen dropped her off.

At that point, Christensen said in the video that he had picked up a girl with very broken English who looked distressed, but at some point she freaked out and he dropped her off in a residential area.

Christensen eventually asked for a lawyer, FBI agent Anthony Manganaro testified Monday in a pretrial hearing, and Manganaro felt they had found Ms. Zhang's abductor.

Christensen was arrested that night for lying to an FBI agent, though not formally charged. He was taken the the Ford County Jail and later released and taken to a hotel.

Two weeks later on June 30, 2017, he was arrested for allegedly kidnapping Ms. Zhang, a charge that was later upgraded to kidnapping resulting in Ms. Zhang's death, along with lying to the FBI.

If convicted at his trial scheduled to begin in April, Christensen faces the death penalty.

Four FBI agents testified Monday morning about their interactions with Christensen and his wife.

Agent Katherine Tenaglia testified about her interactions with Christensen's wife, who was interviewed at Christensen's apartment the night agents came to search his car.

Tenaglia and other agents said that when Christensen opened the door in his underwear, his wife was a few feet behind him naked and initially declined to put on clothes. She eventually put on a robe.

The agents testified that after a brief discussion, Christensen agreed to be interviewed at a local FBI office.

After he left, his wife gave Tenaglia the keys to the car and agreed to talk, Tenaglia said.

The interview lasted two hours, followed by an hour-long search of her apartment, Tenaglia said.

During the interview, Christensen's wife talked about sexual topics and indicated she was afraid of Christensen, Tenaglia testified.

Christensen's lawyers objected to questions about this, citing issues of marital privilige which have not yet been resolved in this case.

Judge Shadid asked prosecutor James Nelson to limit his questioning to establishing whether Christensen's wife gave consent to be interviewed.

After the interview concluded, Tenaglia said she maintained contact with Christensen's wife via text and phone calls. Earlier Monday, FBI agent Joel Smith testified that Christensen's wife had said she was at a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, the day Ms. Zhang was last seen and showed him a receipt.

More FBI agents are expected to testify Monday afternoon.

So far, Judge Shadid has not ruled on any of the motions before him for the pretrial hearings.

He said he expects to rule Tuesday on an emergency motion by Christensen's lawyers.

They said the FBI searched the accused kidnapper's jail cell when he was in court Friday in Peoria.

In their motion, they're asked Judge Shadid to force prosecutors to share what they found.

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