News Local/State

Judge Appoints Public Defender In Yingying Zhang Kidnapping Case


The man accused of kidnapping U of I visiting scholar Yingying Zhang has new lawyers representing him, after prosecutors told the judge new charges could include the death penalty. 

Brendt Christensen is accused of kidnapping Zhang from a U of I campus bus stop on June 9th. She hasn’t been found and is presumed dead.

Prosecutors told Federal Judge Colin Bruce Friday that they may issue new charges against Christensen in October, that could include the death penalty option, if the U.S. Attorney General approves.

Judge Bruce then granted a motion by Christensen’s attorneys Tom, Evan and Anthony Bruno to withdraw from the case. The Bruno’s say Christensen couldn’t afford them in a death penalty case.

Christensen’s new, court-appointed attorney is Federal Defender Tom Patton. Speaking briefly after the hearing he said, "I ask everyone to recall that he is presumed innocent and the allegations against him are only allegations and all you’ve heard so far are one of the party’s versions of the facts."  

Patton says he will aggressively defend Christensen and bring in a lawyer who has tried federal death penalty cases before.

Christensen’s trial is scheduled for February of 2018.