Christensen's lawyers attack results of photo lineup administered by FBI

Christensen's lawyers attack results of photo lineup administered by FBI

URBANA — Hours before visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang was last seen entering Brendt Christensen's black Saturn Astra near a bus stop on June 9, 2017, another woman walking near a bus stop said a man driving a black sedan tried to lure her into his car.

When that woman, Emily Hogan, then a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, saw his photo in a lineup a few days later, she testified Friday that she felt a "physical reaction" and was "shocked."

She said she went into the photo lineup worried about identifying the wrong person and "getting the poor guy into trouble."

But as she flipped through the six photos one by one, when she got to the third photo, she testified, "I saw the guy who had approached me."

"The reaction I had was pretty strong, I was pretty sure," she said Friday.

After the FBI agent administered the lineup, he kept asking if she was sure, Hogan said she started to question herself and thought maybe another one of the six could also have been the person who approached her.

But she said she ultimately told the FBI agent she was 60 percent sure the third person had approached her.

The FBI agent didn't know it at the time, nor did Hogan, but the third person was in fact Christensen.

Christensen was arrested a couple weeks later and charged with kidnapping Ms. Zhang, a charge that was later upgraded to kidnapping resulting in her death, along with lying to FBI agents.

Christensen told the FBI he let Ms. Zhang out a couple blocks away.

He faces the death penalty if convicted at his trial in April, and leading up to that, attorneys are arguing over what evidence to allow during trial.

Defense attorneys are trying to exclude the photo-lineup testimony and evidence from his trial, arguing that it was improperly administered.

George Taseff tried to point out inconsistencies in the stories of Hogan, FBI agent Katherine Tenaglia, who was present in the room during the lineup, and former FBI agent Martin Jerge, who administered the lineup. They each testified Friday.

Their stories differed in how long Hogan looked at each picture (minutes versus seconds), how many times she looked at each picture (once or twice versus four times) and how she looked at the photos after her first run-through (sequentially versus all together).

He also argued that the photo lineup should have been recorded, following a Department of Justice memo from January 2017, but the FBI agents said Friday that they were unaware of the memo at the time.

And he said Hogan's "utterly vague" description of the man who approached her isn't relevant unless prosecutors can tie it to Christensen.

A clean-shaven white man in his 30s "could be almost anybody," Taseff said.

He said trying to introduce as evidence the "three disparate accounts" from two FBI agents and a former UI doctoral student is "nothing short of astounding."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller said that in none of the accounts were the FBI agents accused of suggesting one photo during the lineup over the others.

If anything, he said the agents lowered her certainty about her testimony by repeatedly asking her if she was sure.

And Jerge said it would have been impossible for him to suggest Christensen's photo, as he had not been involved in the case when he was asked to administer the lineup and did not know what Christensen looked like.

During his testimony, Jerge, who was an FBI agent for 21 years before joining the global security team at a private company, said that he told Hogan to look at the photos sequentially and that the person they were looking for may or may not be in the lineup.

During the cross-examination, Taseff asked Jerge how exactly Hogan looked at each photo, what she did and how she responded.

For each of the six photos, Jerge was asked what Hogan said, and Jerge said he didn't remember her saying anything and that she was deliberate.

About 45 minutes into his testimony, Jerge was being asked about Hogan's second run through the lineup when he became unresponsive, and his head fell forward and hit the witness stand.

U.S. Marshals, U.S. District Court Judge James Shadid and court clerks all rushed to his side to provide water, a towel and other assistance.

FBI agents in the gallery all jumped up, and Taseff stood to the side looking at the ground.

After Jerge came to a couple minutes later, he was responsive but very pale.

Shadid huddled with the lawyers and called a recess while Jerge received assistance.

After the break, Shadid said paramedics came to the court, and Jerge went with agents to be checked out. At the end of the hearing, the U.S. attorneys said they hadn't heard an update on his status.

Although lawyers didn't finish their questioning of Jerge, Miller said it was clear that Jerge hadn't been suggestive during the lineup.

And Miller argued there was a clear connection between Hogan's testimony and Christensen, from the car (a black sedan) to her description of him wearing dark aviator sunglasses and a black T-shirt.

Miller said there's a photo of Christensen wearing sunglasses and a black T-shirt at an ATM that day, June 9.

And he said her testimony that Christensen pretended to be an undercover cop before asking her to enter his car is relevant to how he allegedly lured Ms. Zhang into his car.

Miller said an informant has told investigators that Christensen said he got Ms. Zhang into his car by pretending to be an undercover cop.

Shadid didn't rule on the motion Friday, but said he would try to soon.

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