Accused kidnapper's attorney says he'll plead not guilty today


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URBANA — A federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging Brendt Christensen with the June 9 kidnapping of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.

Christensen remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the Macon County Jail, pending trial. He was denied bail last week in his second appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long.

A preliminary hearing scheduled for Friday at the federal courthouse in Urbana has been vacated. Christensen will be arraigned at 3 p.m. on July 20 in Long’s courtroom in Urbana.

The indictment states that Christensen, a Champaign resident and former UI grad student, "willfully and unlawfully seized, confined, inveigled, decoyed, kidnapped, abducted, and carried away" Ms. Zhang "and otherwise held her for his own benefit and purpose, and used and caused to be used a means, facility and instrumentality of interstate commerce, namely, a Motorola cellular telephone and a Saturn Astra motor vehicle, in committing and in furtherance of the commission of the offense."

If Christensen, 28, is convicted of kidnapping, he could face up to life in prison.

More than a month following the alleged abduction, Ms. Zhang remains missing.

Sharon Paul, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, reiterated in Wednesday’s announcement that "law enforcement investigating (Ms.) Zhang’s disappearance believe (Ms.) Zhang is deceased. This determination is based on facts presented in court and court documents, and other facts uncovered during the ongoing investigation."

FBI spokesman Brad Ware described the case as "ongoing," adding that it "will continue to be ongoing until we locate Ms. Zhang."

The FBI, University of Illinois Police and the Illinois State Police are conducting the investigation.