A federal grand jury has returned a superseding indictment against Brendt A. Christensen, 28, of Champaign, Ill., that charges him with the kidnapping resulting in death of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang on June 9, 2017.
In addition, the indictment charges Christensen with two counts of making false statements to FBI agents in June 2017.
Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick D. Hansen and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Cox, Springfield Division, announced the indictment return.
Yingying Zhang, a visiting scholar to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was last seen on Friday, June 9, 2017 wearing a charcoal-colored baseball hat, a pink-and-white top, jeans, and white tennis shoes.
The FBI sought the public’s assistance and offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the location of Yingying Zhang, and the family arrived in have Champaign, some 200 km south of Chicago, upon her disappearance in search of answers.
(When investigators reviewed the search history on Brendt Christensen’s phone, it showed he had visited a website about abduction and attended a vigil for the victim. Courtesy of CBS This Morning and YouTube. Posted on Jul 3, 2017)
Christensen was previously indicted on the charge of kidnapping in that Christensen allegedly kidnapped and held Yingying Zhang, identified as Y.Z. in the indictment, on June 9, and that he used a cellular telephone and Saturn Astra motor vehicle, both instruments of interstate commerce, to commit and in furtherance of the commission of the offense; the superseding indictment adds the allegation that the kidnapping resulted in the death of Zhang.
If convicted, for kidnapping resulting in death, the penalty is death or mandatory life in prison.
The decision as to whether the government seeks the death penalty rests solely with the U.S. Attorney General.
The Department of Justice has established federal death penalty procedures. The procedures include a review process conducted by the department’s Capital Case Section.
The decision-making process remains confidential until the U.S. Attorney General makes a decision as to whether or not to seek the death penalty.
The superseding indictment returned today alleges special findings including:
- that Christensen was more than 18 years of age at the time of the offense;
- that the defendant intentionally killed the victim;
- that the defendant intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury that resulted in the death of the victim;
- that the defendant intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person, and the victim died as a direct result of the act; and,
- that the defendant intentionally and specifically engaged in an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person, such that participation in the act constituted a reckless disregard for human life and the victim died as a direct result of the act.
As to the charge that the kidnapping resulted in the death of Yingying Zhang, the indictment alleges special findings as follows:
- that Zhang’s death occurred during the commission of a kidnapping;
- that Christensen committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim; and,
- that Christensen committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person.
In addition to the offense of kidnapping resulting in death, the superseding indictment charges Christensen with making false statements to the FBI on two occasions.
On June 12, the indictment alleges that Christensen falsely stated to FBI agents that he stayed at his apartment and slept and played video games all day on June 9, 2017, when he knew full well that he drove around the University of Illinois campus on the afternoon of June 9, and picked up Zhang as she was waiting for a bus.
The indictment alleges that on June 15, Christensen falsely told an FBI agent that he dropped off an Asian female in a residential area shortly after picking her up in his Saturn Astra on June 9, when he knew full well that he did not drop the female off shortly after picking her up, but instead, took her back to his apartment.
If convicted of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents, each offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The date for Christensen to appear in federal court for arraignment on the superseding indictment will be scheduled by the U.S. Clerk of the Court in Urbana.
Christensen was arrested and charged by criminal complaint on June 30.
On July 5, U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric I. Long ordered that Christensen remain detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial.
(Prosecutors said at a court hearing they believe Brendt Christensen, 28, attended a vigil for exchange student Yingying Zhang, whom Christensen is accused of kidnapping, to case the crowd for other possible targets. Courtesy of ABC News and YouTube. Posted on Jul 6, 2017)
On July 12, the grand jury returned the initial indictment of Christensen. The pending trial date for Christensen is Feb. 27, 2018, in Urbana.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the University of Illinois Police Department are conducting the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bryan D. Freres and Eugene L. Miller are representing the government on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Urbana Division.
Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.