Christensen's lawyers ask to delay start of trial to July 1

Christensen's lawyers ask to delay start of trial to July 1

PEORIA — Lawyers for accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen hope starting his trial in July is more reasonable to U.S. District Judge James Shadid than October.

At a hearing last week, Shadid said moving the trial to October would be "ridiculous" and was "simply out of the question," but said he would be open to reasonable requests to delay the trial currently scheduled to begin with jury selection April 1 in Peoria.

Christensen was arrested June 30, 2017, for allegedly kidnapping visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang.

Ms. Zhang, from China, was last seen entering his car June 9, 2017, near a bus stop on campus. While Christensen told the FBI he let her out a few blocks away, the FBI presumes her dead, and prosecutors believe he took her back to his apartment.

Earlier this month, Christensen's lawyers asked for a delay because one of their mental-health experts, who was hired in October 2018, told them that October 2019 was the earliest he could be ready.

After their request was denied, Christensen's attorneys went back to the psychiatrist to see if "there was any conceivable way he could complete his assessment and be ready to testify prior to October, but he confirmed there was not," Christensen's lawyers wrote in their motion late Wednesday.

They then tried to find a new psychiatrist and were able to hire one by Tuesday.

While the psychiatrist has a full-time job, other professional obligations and lives out of state, Assistant Federal Defender Elisabeth Pollock said the psychiatrist has committed to traveling to Illinois in March, April and May to examine Christensen and has blocked off days in their schedule.

"He/she confirmed to me that he/she can be prepared to complete his/her written report by late June, and testify at any time two weeks after the report is complete," Pollock wrote.

Christensen's lawyers asked for the trial to begin July 1.

It would start with jury selection, which alone could take weeks, and the procedures for that are still being set.

Following jury selection, the guilt phase of the trial would begin, and if convicted, Shadid said last week that there may be a two- to four-week break followed by the sentencing phase, when jurors would decide whether to sentence Christensen to life in prison or death.

"In light of the previous estimates provided by the parties, if the trial begins on July 1, it should be concluded by the end of August," Christensen's lawyers wrote in their motion late Wednesday.

The defense's mental-health expert would testify at the penalty phase, not the guilt phase. Christensen's lawyers are planning to argue he has a severe mental illness and doesn't deserve the death penalty.

They have said they "have painstakingly uncovered, and continue to uncover, an extraordinary amount of evidence of mental disease and disorder in the family going back for multiple generations."

Prosecutors have until the end of Friday to respond to the delay request, and a hearing is scheduled for Monday in Urbana to discuss the trial date.

If moved, this would be the third time the trial has been delayed.

It was originally scheduled to start Sept. 12, 2017, but that was delayed to Feb. 28, 2018.

Then after federal prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty, the trial was pushed back to April of this year, now less than 40 days away.

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