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Mental health defense dropped in Chinese scholar case

Published
FILE - This undated photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff's Office in Decatur, Ill., shows Brendt Christensen.  Christensen is accused of luring Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang into his car in June 2017, torturing and killing her. The FBI assumes Zhang is dead though her body hasn’t been found. Video of his trial will be streamed from Peoria federal court to a viewing room at the Urbana courthouse. District Judge James Shadid on Tuesday approved the closed-circuit video “to accommodate members of the public and the victim’s family.” Christensen’s trial is scheduled to begin June 3, 2019,  in Peoria. (Macon County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — Lawyers for a former University of Illinois student accused of killing a visiting Chinese scholar say they are abandoning their mental health defense.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports that Brendt Christensen's attorneys had been planning to argue that the 29-year-old suffered from severe mental illness in an attempt to avoid the death penalty if he is convicted of killing Yingying Zhang. Mental health exams were scheduled to begin Monday. The attorneys gave no reason in a Friday filing.

Prosecutors say Christensen lured Zhang into his car in June 2017, tortured and killed her. Her body hasn't been found.

Urbana attorney Steve Beckett, who represents Zhang's family, says he is shocked by the mental-health defense withdrawal.

Prosecutors have asked the court if their own mental health expert can still examine Christensen.

Christensen's trial is set to begin June 3.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff's Office in Decatur, Ill., shows Brendt Christensen.  Christensen is accused of luring Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang into his car in June 2017, torturing and killing her. The FBI assumes Zhang is dead though her body hasn’t been found. Video of his trial will be streamed from Peoria federal court to a viewing room at the Urbana courthouse. District Judge James Shadid on Tuesday approved the closed-circuit video “to accommodate members of the public and the victim’s family.” Christensen’s trial is scheduled to begin June 3, 2019,  in Peoria. (Macon County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
FILE - This undated photo provided by the Macon County Sheriff's Office in Decatur, Ill., shows Brendt Christensen. Christensen is accused of luring Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang into his car in June 2017, torturing and killing her. The FBI assumes Zhang is dead though her body hasn’t been found. Video of his trial will be streamed from Peoria federal court to a viewing room at the Urbana courthouse. District Judge James Shadid on Tuesday approved the closed-circuit video “to accommodate members of the public and the victim’s family.” Christensen’s trial is scheduled to begin June 3, 2019, in Peoria. (Macon County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)