Murder Suspect Brendt Christensen’s Legal Team Requests Judge’s Recusal

The defense attorneys for Brendt Christensen, the man accused of killing University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang, have requested that the presiding judge recuse himself from the case.

On February 7, 2018, the defense team for Brendt Christensen filed a request in federal court that United States District Judge Colin Stirling Bruce recuse himself. The filing doesn’t give a reason as to why they want Bruce to step down, but it does hint that the contents of another sealed document are linked to the recusal request.

In the filing, the defense also claims that the case is so complicated in nature that they’ll need until June 2019 to prepare for the trial. The prosecution wants an earlier trial date in October 2018.

Christensen’s attorneys want to use this extra time to delve into their client’s genealogy, the history of mental health in his family, and the type of prenatal care his mother received while she was pregnant with him.

It’s been speculated that a combination of these factors could have a drastic effect on a person’s mental and emotional development and well-being.

According to the research findings of David Freedman, a New York-based psychiatric epidemiologist, “even such common events as preterm birth and low birth rate…are associated with later psychiatric and medical illnesses.”

In January 2018, prosecutors revealed that they’re seeking the death penalty in this case. The state of Illinois has abolished the death penalty, but capital punishment is still available in federal cases.

Brendt Christensen Suspected of Opportunistic Kidnapping

Zhang, 26, disappeared almost without a trace on June 9, 2017 when she was en route to sign a lease for a new apartment close to the University of Illinois campus. She missed her bus and was offered a ride by Christensen, 28, who then proceeded to kidnap, torture, and murder her, according to prosecutors. Her body was never recovered.

Yingying Zhang

Photo: University of Illinois Police Department

Zhang’s disappearance drew a great deal of international media attention. Her family is based in China and has been desperately seeking answers as to what happened to her.

Prosecutors are charged with the task of proving that this was a fully calculated crime. Meanwhile, the defense team is expected to argue that Brendt Christensen’s poor mental health is a mitigating factor.

Defense attorneys believe that if the court gives them more time to research Christensen’s background and mental history, they may be able to prove that he suffered from a bout of insanity. Consequently, they’d be able to argue that this mental breakdown resulted in a lapse of judgment and total lack of understanding of and control over his actions.