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Ben Zigterman broke down the trial in Sunday's News-Gazette. Read his stories here and here (on the sentencing phase). Plus a look at the Yingying Zhang memorial site on campus.

UPDATE, 1:45 p.m.:

PEORIA — Lawyers questioned potential jurors Monday morning during the first day of the trial against accused kidnapper and killer Brendt Christensen.

Sixteen potential jurors were called in Monday morning and asked if they knew any of the lawyers, court clerks or potential witnesses.

That included about 88 potential witnesses from the prosecution, many of them FBI agents or biologists, and about 53 from the defense, including Christensen's former wife.

Christensen has been charged with kidnapping visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang, who was last seen entering Christensen's car June 9, 2017, near a bus stop on campus.

He told the FBI he let her out a few blocks away and has pleaded not guilty, while the FBI and prosecutors believe he took her back to his apartment.

Her parents were at the courthouse Monday morning in Peoria. Her father was in the main courtroom, while her mother watched from an overflow room, according to their family lawyer Zhidong Wang, an attorney from Chicago.

Christensen also appeared in court, wearing khakis and a blue dress shirt.

The 16 jurors were asked whether they could judge the case fairly and were open to the death penalty. One juror said he is a police officer and so is inclined to side with the prosecution. Another said she works for the federal bureau of prisons and echoed the police officer's inclination to side with the prosecution.

A couple jurors said they believed in the death penalty, but were hesitant to personally apply it.

A death sentence requires unanimous agreement by the jury.

The jury-selection process appeared to be moving slowly.

After being questioned in open court, they were brought into the judge's chambers for individual questioning.

The morning group of 16 was still being questioned as of 1:30 p.m.

Another group of 16 potential jurors was supposed to start being questioned in the afternoon.

UPDATE, 11:15 a.m.:

URBANA — Around 10:40 a.m., attorneys and Christensen left the courtroom. He is cuffed behind back while walking, but is uncuffed when seated. He was seen writing something down before leaving courtroom with attorneys.

In Urbana, the crowd has thinned to about 10.

— Tim Ditman

UPDATE, 10:20 a.m.

URBANA — Judge James Shadid has been continuing to question jurors. Two said they were against death penalty. One female juror said "god doesn't want us to take revenge."

Two jurors said life in prison would be worse than death penalty, while one woman said she had served on juries before in McLean County. And another woman said she works for federal bureau of prisons and works with inmates.

Shadid also told panel the case involves evidence of kidnapping, sexual assault and

murder. He took a 15 minute recess at around 10:10 a.m. Then he and attorneys will question jurors individually in the judge's chambers.

— Tim Ditman

UPDATE: 10 a.m.

URBANA — Judge James Shadid is questioning the first panel of 16 jurors. All said they accepted Christensen's presumption of innocence.

The judge read off lengthy witness list, which includes mostly law enforcement, but also members of visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang's family, plus some University of Illinois employees and Christensen's ex-wife.

All jurors said they did not know anyone on the list. All but two jurors said they have heard about the case. One juror said he had formed an opinion.

The jurors said they could refrain from watching news coverage during trial.

— Tim Ditman

UPDATE, 9:20 a.m.:

URBANA — At 8:46 a.m., the prosecution and defense left the courtroom to talk "pretrial matters" in the judge's chambers. At 9:05, they returned and convened a couple of minutes later.

The first group of jurors were brought in, both men and women. The judge welcomed them and outlined the process. In Urbana, there were around a dozen people in the viewing room, which includes local attorneys and members of the local Chinese community.

— Tim Ditman

Original story, published 8:50 a.m.:

URBANA — The long-awaited trial of Brendt Christensen is about to get underway with jury selection. He is accused of kidnapping and killing visiting University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang in June 2017.

There is not much of a crowd at Urbana courthouse so far this morning. There are two young Asian men outside with a video camera. The viewing room is not a courtroom, but more of a conference room with two large TVs and room for about 70.

The defense team was already at the table at 8:30 a.m. Christensen arrived at 8:40 a.m. wearing a blue button-down shirt and tan dress pants. Prosecutors walked into the courtroom shortly after at 8:45 a.m.

— Tim Ditman

WDWS Reporter

Michael Kiser is a reporter at WDWS 1400-AM. His email is

WDWS Reporter

Tim Ditman is a reporter at WDWS 1400-AM. His email is