Man pleads not guilty to new charge in Chinese scholar case

URBANA – 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 reported that Yingying Zhang’s mother, Lifeng Ye, began weeping when the suspect entered the federal courtroom Wednesday in Urbana. She had to be helped from the room before Brendt Christensen’s hearing could start.

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

Christensen already was 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.