PEORIA — Lawyers for accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen asked the U.S. District Court on Friday to delay his trial until October.
That would be at least a six-month delay from the trial currently scheduled to begin in April and more than two years after visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang was last seen entering Christensen's car June 9, 2017.
He told the FBI he let her out a few blocks away, but prosecutors believe he took her back to his apartment, restrained her, caused her to bleed and tried to clean the apartment.
Ms. Zhang, from China, is presumed dead by the FBI, though her body has never been found.
Christensen was arrested June 30, 2017. His trial was originally scheduled for Sept. 12, 2017, but was delayed that August to Feb. 28, 2018.
Then, after prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty, the trial was pushed back to April of this year, now less than two months away.
Christensen's lawyers say they don't have enough time to thoroughly review Christensen's mental health.
"Substantial progress has been made by all experts retained to date towards completing the highly complex, multi-faceted and time-intensive process of conducting evaluations of sufficient caliber to meet constitutional standards in a death penalty case," they wrote Friday. "However, it is impossible for those experts to complete the necessary work in the time available before the currently scheduled trial date."
In December, his lawyers said they would seek a mental-health defense, not to show his innocence but as a mitigating factor to avoid the death penalty if convicted.
They also said at the time that they planned to amend the notice if necessary, as they still had much work to do.
In their motion for a delay, the defense 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."
They "intend to present evidence of severe mental illness" during the penalty phase of the trial, but said that if it went ahead in April, Christensen "would be forced to fight for his life without the central feature of his case in mitigation."
Besides the psychosocial history, his lawyers said the experts' assessments of his mental health are also time-consuming.
Because they need to build rapport and because mental illnesses can "manifest differently over time," they said that "multiple interviews over an extended period of time are therefore necessary to ensure that the full range of the patient's experiences is captured."
When Christensen's lawyers asked last month for a three-week delay to file an amended mental-health notice due to the partial government shutdown, they also said they were planning to ask for a delay for the whole trial.
Christensen is represented by assistant federal defenders Elisabeth Pollock and George Taseff, as well as attorneys Robert Tucker and Julie Brain.
They'll meet Monday for a previously scheduled hearing to discuss the reliability of blood and DNA tests taken in Christensen's apartment, as well as on the reliability of a cadaver-sniffing canine which, according to the defense, alerted to the presence of a body in Christensen's bathroom.