Mental Health Defense Dropped In Chinese Scholar Case

Brendt Christensen

Brendt Christensen, after his arrest in 2017.

Macon County Jail

Lawyers for a former University of Illinois student accused of killing visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang say they are abandoning their mental health defense.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports that Brendt Christensen's attorneys had been planning to argue that the 29-year-old suffered from severe mental illness in an attempt to avoid the death penalty if he is convicted of killing Zhang. Mental health exams were scheduled to begin Monday. The attorneys gave no reason in a Friday filing.

Prosecutors say Christensen lured Zhang into his car in June 2017, tortured and killed her. Her body hasn't been found.

Urbana attorney Steve Beckett, who represents Zhang's family, says he is shocked by the mental-health defense withdrawal.

Prosecutors have asked the court if their own mental health expert can still examine Christensen.

Christensen's trial is set to begin June 3 at the federal courthouse in Peoria.

Story source: AP