Murder trial of Chinese national in US begins with jury selection
The trial of Brendt Christensen, accused kidnapper and killer of visiting Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying at the University of Illinois in 2017, began on Monday at a federal courthouse.
The trial began with jury selection at the central Illinois courthouse in Peoria.
Shortly after the courtroom opened at 8:30am local time (1430 GMT), Christensen and his defense team entered. Christensen wore a blue button down shirt and tan dress pants and looked calm, occasionally talking with the lawyer beside him.
Zhang's father, mother and younger brother, also appeared at the courthouse. Zhang's father entered the courtroom accompanied by a legal advisor while Zhang's mother remained outside.
Hosted by Chief Judge James Shadid of the US District Court for the Central District of Illinois, the prosecutors and the defense lawyers selected 70 potential jurors from a pool of more than 470 candidates from counties in central Illinois and then further pared down the number to 12 jurors and 6 substitute jurors.
Judge Shadid also raised questions for the jury candidates to weed out bias, including their opinions on the death penalty and life sentencing and whether they may be affected by the fact that the victim is a visiting Chinese scholar but not a US citizen.
Seven individuals were chosen from 16 candidates. Jury selection will continue until a final 12-person jury and six substitute jurors are chosen.
Although Illinois has no death penalty, as the case is being handled in a federal court, with the death penalty a potential outcome, Judge Shadid said,
"The trial has finally started," said Wang Zhidong, legal advisor to Zhang's family. "This indicates that Zhang Yingying has not been forgotten."
The trial could last two months. Jury selection will be followed by opening statements and witness examinations, Wang said.
Zhang, a 26-year-old visiting Chinese scholar went missing on June 9, 2017, after getting into a black Saturn Astra about five blocks from where she got off a bus on her way to an apartment complex to sign a lease.
Christensen was arrested on June 30, 2017, after being caught on tape pointing out people he described as "ideal victims" during a vigil in Zhang's honor, but he pleaded not guilty.