Prosecutors ask judge to hold U. of I. kidnapping suspect in custody until trial

— Federal prosecutors on Monday asked a judge to hold Brendt Christensen, the 28-year-old man charged with kidnapping a visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois, in federal custody while he awaits trial.

At a hearing packed with family, friends and supporters of Yingying Zhang, 26, who remains missing and authorities say is presumed dead, U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric I. Long set a detention hearing for Wednesday to weigh that issue. He did that in part to give Christensen’s attorney, Evan Bruno, more time to prepare his arguments.

It was Christensen’s first public appearance since being charged Friday. A preliminary hearing has also been scheduled for July 14.

Christensen, who lives in Champaign, walked into court wearing a gray-striped prison-issue jumpsuit and shackles around his ankles. He said nothing during the nine-minute hearing other than to respond to questions from the judge about whether he understood his rights to an attorney and to remain silent.

Long briefly reviewed some elements of the affidavit federal authorities filed Friday in support of the kidnapping charge. Federal prosecutors did not introduce any new details.

Bruno, a prominent defense attorney in Urbana, said he had met with Christensen a few times and asked for people not to rush to judgment about the facts.

“This is a case that a lot of people have been following,” Bruno said after the hearing. “There’s a lot going on in this case, and a lot of people have made up their minds about what happens. Now is the point in time where a lot of really good, really old laws kick in to make sure that the process is fair, to make sure the presumption of innocence is maintained while these proceedings occur.”

He pleaded for patience among the public.

“My job is to make sure that happens,” he said. “I encourage everyone to be patient, to keep an open mind, to wait until the evidence comes in. At this point we’re very early on in the case and as long as everyone keeps an open mind, listens to the evidence and doesn’t jump to conclusions, I think that will be for the best.”

Dozens of Chinese students gathered outside the Urbana courtroom before the hearing, displaying banners in English and Chinese that read, “Bring Justice to Yingying and her family” and “Find Yinying.”

In announcing the charges, federal authorities said they did not think that Zhang was still alive but have yet to elaborate upon why they think that.

Several students said they wanted to be at the hearing to show solidarity as a community.

“We are trying to make a demonstration … hoping for some pressure on the judge to deny bail,” said Chuck Guo, who graduated from the University of Illinois two years ago.

For some, the hearing also served as a way to come together since the authorities announced that Zhang was likely dead.

“It’s our place to mourn for Yingying,” said Eugene Yuxin, 22, a first-year graduate student.

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

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