Wang Zhidong, legal advisor to Zhang Yingying's family, speaks to reporters after a hearing in Urbana, the United States, July 5, 2017. U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long on Wednesday ordered the man accused of kidnapping University of Illinois' visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying to be held in jail indefinitely until he goes on trial. (Xinhua/Wang Ping)
by Xinhua writers Xu Jing, Wang Ping, Miao Zhuang
CHICAGO, July 5 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long on Wednesday ordered the man accused of kidnapping University of Illinois' (UI) visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying to be held in jail indefinitely until he goes on trial.
Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign, a former UI graduate student from Wisconsin, was making his second court appearance at the federal courthouse in Urbana on Wednesday afternoon. The suspect did not speak during the 20-minute-long hearing.
Long made the ruling based on new evidence presented by assistant attorney Bryan Freres -- while under surveillance, Christensen was allegedly captured on a recording picking out other potential victims and talking about the "characteristics of an ideal victim" during a vigil for Zhang held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus on June 29. Christensen has been confirmed to have attended the vigil.
Other evidence provided on Wednesday included an audio of Christensen describing how he kidnapped Zhang and how she "fought and resisted" when he brought her back to his apartment, and threatening the person to whom he provided the incriminating information.
Long said the evidence "seemed strong," and therefore ordered Christensen, whom he called a flight risk and a danger to the community, to be held without bond.
"The ruling is within our expectation," U.S. lawyer Wang Zhidong, who has been offering legal support to the Zhang family on a voluntary basis, said outside the court. "This is a comfort to the family of Yingying Zhang."
The preliminary hearing of the case is set for July 14. However, if the majority of the Grand Jury believes in the evidence submitted, the suspect may be indicted before the date and the preliminary hearing canceled.
"It is very likely that the Grand Jury will indict the suspect," Wang said.
Christensen's attorneys said "in a case like this, it's not unusual for bail to be denied." However, they are entitled to test the evidence and see "if it is reliable."
INSIDE THE COURT ROOM
Christensen, in gray striped prison clothes, entered the court room from a side door and took a seat beside his two lawyers, while Zhang's family was accompanied by Chinese consuls and volunteers.
During his 25-minute-long appearance, Christensen never looked at the family of the victim. He made his first court appearance on July 3.
Zhang Ronggao, Yingying's father, kept staring at the suspect the whole time. Occasionally, he lowered his head and rested it in his hands. During the whole process, he appeared quiet and calm.
JUSTICE SOUGHT FOR ZHANG YINGYING
Outside the courthouse, there were people holding banners reading "We the people are with Yingying," "Justice for Yingying, Where is She?" and "Justice to Yingying and her family."
Lu Ting, a UIUC teacher, said that Wednesday's ruling is the first step toward justice for Zhang. The legal procedure may last long, but it is taking the right direction, Lu said.
Chinese Deputy Consul General in Chicago Liu Jun said the Chinese Consulate in Chicago has been involved in the case from the beginning, and has kept in touch with local police, urging them to solve the case as quickly as possible and relaying to them reasonable requests from Zhang's family.
"The top priority at present is to locate the whereabouts of (Zhang) Yingying," he said.
Zhang Yingying, 26, was last seen on a security camera video entering a black Saturn Astra car on the edge of the UIUC campus at approximately 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) on June 9. She arrived at UIUC in late April this year, and was on her way to sign a lease when she went missing.
The FBI arrested Christensen, the owner of a black Saturn Astra, on June 30, accusing him of kidnapping Zhang. Based on facts uncovered during the investigation, law enforcement agents believe that Zhang is no longer alive.
UIUC has the largest number of Chinese students among all universities in the United States, with more than 5,600 Chinese students now studying there.