his photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff's Office in Decatur, Ill., shows Brendt Christensen, the suspect in the kidnapping of visiting University of Illinois Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang. At Christensen's first court appearance at federal court in Urbana, Ill., Monday, July 3, 2017, a judge ordered Christensen held without bond. Authorities said facts in the case indicate the Zhang is dead, although her body hasn't been found.
Macon County Sheriff's Office via AP
URBANA, Ill. (AP) — The defense attorney for a man accused of kidnapping a University of Illinois scholar from China says his client deserves the “presumption of innocence.”
Tom Bruno represents 28-year-old Brendt Christensen, who is accused of kidnapping 26-year-old Yingying Zhang and is jailed pending trial. Authorities believe she’s dead, although her body hasn’t been found. Christensen was arrested Friday.
Bruno said today that he doesn’t think “a negative inference” can be made from prosecutors’ statements that Christensen marched in a vigil for Zhang a day before he was arrested.
The suspect in the kidnapping of a University of Illinois scholar from China marched in a vigil for the victim a day before his arrest last week. He also spoke about what makes an ideal victim and talked about how she fought and resisted, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The new details surrounding 26-year-old Yingying Zhang’s June 9 disappearance arose at a detention hearing for Brendt Christensen in U.S. District Court in Urbana, not far from the central Illinois school, a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long ordered that Christensen, 28, remain jailed pending trial. Long said the recent graduate student at the university’s physics department poses a danger to the community and is a flight risk.
Last Thursday, which was the day before Christensen was arrested, hundreds of people gathered on campus and walked to a street where Zhang was last seen. Prosecutors say Christensen was in the vigil group. Zhang’s father, a factory driver who traveled to Illinois from China for the search, also attended.
Prosecutors haven’t explained who Christensen spoke to about abducting Zhang, including whether someone close to him secretly recorded him. They divulged the details at Wednesday’s hearing to back their contention that Christensen is too dangerous to release.
The U.S. attorney’s office statement said Christensen “made a threat to another person to whom he made incriminating statements.” The statement didn’t elaborate.
It added that Christensen “has made statements about the characteristics of the ideal victim” and that he also told to an unnamed person that Zhang “fought and resisted” as he abducted her. It didn’t go into details.
Zhang was abducted on her way to sign an apartment lease off campus in Urbana. Christensen allegedly lured her into his car after she got off one bus and tried to flag down another bus. In April, his phone was allegedly used to view a forum called “Abduction 101” online.
Christensen earned a master’s degree in physics from the University of Illinois in May and lived in nearby Champaign. He previously lived in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.