URBANA — Brendt Christensen’s federal kidnapping trial has been set for Sept. 12 in Urbana.
Eight days after being indicted for the kidnapping of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang, Christensen was formally arraigned Thursday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Urbana.
As expected, he pleaded not guilty in his third appearance in less than three weeks in U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long's crowded courtroom.
Unlike his previous appearances, the former UI graduate student spoke during a proceeding that lasted just four minutes and 15 seconds.
Asked by the judge if he was currently taking any medication while in the custody of the Macon County Jail, Christensen answered in the affirmative, saying he was taking Klonopin "as an anti-depressant."
The medication did not affect his ability to understand the charges against him, Christensen told the judge.
In a statement after his client was arraigned, Urbana attorney Anthony Bruno said: "He’s demanded a jury trial and he plans to persist in his plea of not guilty."
In noting the worldwide attention the case has received, Bruno said: "Bad things happen everywhere. Nowhere else in the U.S. is a person from China more welcome."
In the next few weeks, Christensen’s defense team expects to begin receiving discovery from the U.S. attorney’s office and reviewing it with their client, Bruno said.
"I think this case could go on a year or more," he said.
Christensen's next pretrial hearing was set for 2:45 p.m. on Aug. 28.
If convicted of the federal kidnapping charge, Christensen could face up to life in prison.
No new information was provided in court regarding the search for Ms. Zhang, whose family members were in attendance. The FBI has said she is presumed dead.