An Illinois man may face the death penalty for the alleged kidnapping of a visiting scholar from China after additional charges were filed against him.
The federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment, which is an indictment that has added further charges to a previous indictment, against Brendt Christensen, a 28-year-old Champaign, Ill., native. He is being charged with kidnapping resulting in the death of Yingying Zhang on June 9, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois.
Christensen, a former grad school student, was reportedly seen at a rally held by Zhang’s friends and family the day before his arrest. Prosecutors have said he was overheard at the rally “describing his perfect victim” and that he “pointed out people in the crowd who fit the description.”
Christensen was previously indicted on the charge of kidnapping Zhang, but the new superseding indictment adds that the alleged kidnapping resulted in her death. If convicted for kidnapping resulting in death, he would face a death sentence or mandatory life in prison.
Chinese scholar missing for months, and family has no answers
Zhang’s body has not been found.
The indictment alleges Christensen murdered Zhang in an “especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner” that involved torture or serious physical abuse. It adds that he committed the murder after “substantial planning and premeditation.”
Christensen is also charged with two counts of making false statements to FBI agents in June.
On one occasion, it is alleged that he falsely told FBI agents on June 12 that he stayed at his apartment and slept and played video games all day long on the day of the murder. Three days later, he claimed to have dropped off an Asian female in a residential area shortly after picking her up in his car.
Alleged kidnapper of missing Chinese scholar attended rally
The indictment alleges that both of these statements were untrue.
If convicted of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents, Christensen could face up to five years in prison for each charge.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will decide whether or not the death penalty will be sought in the case.
Christensen is tentatively set to appear in court in February.
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