CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The girlfriend of a 28-year-old man charged in the kidnapping of a University of Illinois scholar from China was so nervous as she secretly recorded him for the FBI before his arrest last year that she fainted at least once in front of him, according to court filings.
The revelation was in a flurry of motions that Brendt Christensen’s lawyers filed Monday morning. They asked a federal judge to dismiss the headline charge of kidnapping resulting in death, citing a lack of evidence. Another motion asks to change the trial’s location to western Illinois or Chicago from central Illinois, where the university is located and where 26-year-old Yingying Zhang was last seen. The lawyers argue that “inflammatory and inherently prejudicial” media reports make a fair hearing impossible in that area.
Zhang went missing on June 9 as she headed to sign an apartment lease. Investigators say she is dead, though her body has never been found. Christensen, a former student at the university, was arrested on June 30.
Christensen’s girlfriend — referred to only by the initials T.E.B. in the defense filing — secretly recorded Christensen for days before his arrest. Typically, agents want anyone wearing such a device to stay calm so that suspects aren’t tipped off that they’re being recorded.
But citing government records, the defense filing describes how the girlfriend sent texts to agents supervising her, telling them that her “heart” was “pounding” and that she “went into shock and passed out while talking to” Christensen. The defense discussed her state of mind in arguing that the presiding judge should exclude the recordings as trial evidence because, they say, the girlfriend didn’t agree to cooperate with the FBI voluntary.
Christensen was married and living with his wife at the time. One of the places where the girlfriend recorded Christensen was a June 29 vigil for Zhang’s family, friends and supporters amid the search for her. He was arrested the next day.