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.