URBANA, United States, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- An American pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to the charge of kidnapping resulting in death of a Chinese scholar.
This has been the first time Brendt Christensen appeared in court after a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment on Oct. 3 against the 28-year-old, accusing him of kidnapping resulting in the death of Zhang Yingying, a visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC).
U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long read the main part of the superseding indictment, and Christensen replied that he fully understood the three counts of charges, namely kidnapping resulting in death and two counts of making false statements to FBI agents.
When Christensen entered the courthouse, Zhang's mother tried to grab the defendant while shouting "give me back my daughter." She was escorted out of the court before the hearing began.
Christensen, in grass green prison clothes, sat between his two lawyers, and never looked at the family of the victim despite the mother's cries.
Preliminary hearing will be held on Feb. 12, 2018, and the final ruling of the case will be on Feb. 27, 2018, Judge Long said.
If convicted of the charge, Christensen will face death penalty or mandatory life in prison.
"Suspect pleading not guilty is within our expectation," U.S. lawyer Wang Zhidong, who has been offering legal support to the Zhangs on a voluntary basis, said outside the court.
He believes that the police and prosecutors have enough evidence to prosecute the suspect, but Wang doubted the final ruling can be held on the set date announced by Long, citing the complexity of the case.
Zhang went missing on her way to sign a housing lease on June 9. Investigators later announced that Zhang was kidnapped. Prosecutors alleged that Christensen approached Zhang and lured her into his car.
Law enforcement agents first turned their attention to Christensen after they found his Saturn Astra was the same one Zhang disappeared in, according to surveillance footage.
Christensen told the FBI that he was at home all day on the day Zhang went missing. He then changed his story, saying that he came across an Asian woman and offered her a ride; however, he let her out of his car after she panicked.
The FBI arrested Christensen on June 30 after catching him on tape pointing out people he described as "ideal victims" during a vigil in Zhang's honor.