U.S. to seek death penalty in kidnapping of Chinese scholar


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Friday it intends to seek the death penalty for an Illinois man who was charged last year with kidnapping a visiting Chinese scholar.

Brendt Christensen was indicted in June in connection with the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang, a scholar in photosynthesis and crop productivity who came to the University of Illinois from China last year.

The Justice Department said in a statement that Zhang’s kidnapping resulted in her death, and because of that “a sentence of death is justified.”

Attorneys for Christensen could not immediately be reached for comment.

Chinese student Yingying Zhang is seen in a still image from security camera video taken outside an MTD Teal line bus in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. June 9, 2017. University of Illinois Police/Handout via REUTERS

Prior to her disappearance, Zhang was recorded on surveillance video on June 9 waiting for a bus. She was seen getting into a black car that police later connected to Christensen.

After federal agents put him under surveillance, he was heard “explaining” he had kidnapped her, according to court filings.

In October, the Justice Department filed a new, superseding indictment against him saying the kidnapping directly resulted in her death.

He is also charged with making false statements to the FBI, after he told them he had picked her up in his car and dropped her off.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Tom Brown and Sandra Maler

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