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Man pleads not guilty to new charge in Chinese scholar case

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    This photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff’s Office in Decatur, Ill., shows Brendt Christensen, the suspect in the kidnapping of visiting University of Illinois Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this undated file photo provided by the University of Illinois Police Department shows Yingying Zhang. Zhang, is a Chinese scholar who was abducted while studying at the University of Illinois on June 9, 2017.

URBANA, Ill. >> A 28-year-old accused in the abduction of a University of Illinois scholar from China has pleaded not guilty to a new, more serious charge of kidnapping resulting in death.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports Yingying Zhang’s mother, Lifeng Ye, began weeping when the suspect entered the federal courtroom today in Urbana. She had to be helped from the room before Brendt Christensen’s hearing could start.

The 26-year-old Zhang was last seen June 9. She is presumed dead, though her body hasn’t been found.

Christensen was already facing a kidnapping charge. But a grand jury last week returned a superseding indictment that included allegations Zhang’s death involved torture or serious physical abuse.

The new charge carries a possible death penalty or mandatory life sentence. The trial is scheduled for Feb. 27.

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