Emotional outburst at accused scholar kidnapping arraignment

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Brendt Christensen, 28 Brendt Christensen, 28

URBANA, Ill. (WAND) - The man accused of kidnapping Chinese visiting scholar YingYing Zhang pleaded not guilty to the upgraded charges of kidnapping resulting in the death of Zhang. 

Zhang's mother was in the courtroom as Christensen plead not guilty Wednesday, it was the first time she has seen him. WAND News reporters at the hearing say Zhang's mother was hysterical and had to be removed from the courtroom. 

28-year-old Brendt A. Christensen was already facing kidnapping charges related to the disappearance but on October 3rd, federal authorities charged him with kidnapping resulting in the death and for lying to agents.  

U.S Department of Justice officials say the superseding indictment of kidnapping resulting in death alleges that Zhang died during the commission of a kidnapping, that Christensen committed the kidnapping in an "especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim," and that Christensen committed the kidnapping after "substantial planning and premeditation" to cause the death of a person.

If convicted of kidnapping resulting in death, Christensen could be sentenced to death or a mandatory life sentence.  If convicted on the false statements charges, Christensen could be sentenced up to five years in prison.  

Investigators say Yingying Zhang went missing on June 9, 2017.  The investigation into this incident is ongoing. 

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