Wife of alleged kidnapper files for divorce

CHAMPAIGN – The wife of a man accused of kidnapping and killing an international student from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign last year has filed for divorce.

Michelle Christensen, 30, filed a petition for dissolution of marriage from her husband Brendt Christensen on September 28  in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Champaign County.

Brendt Christensen is being held in Livingston County Jail on federal charges of kidnapping resulting in death following the disappearance of visiting scholar Yingying Zhang.  Her body has not been recovered. Brendt Christensen faces the death penalty and his trial date is set for April 3.

In her petition for divorce, Michelle Christensen cited “irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage; That efforts at reconciliation have failed; and future attempts at reconciliation would be impractical, and not in the best interest of the family.”

Michelle Christensen also seeks to change her name back to her maiden name, Zortman, in addition to retaining her pre-marital property. The couple do not have any children, according to the filing.

The couple was married on March 12, 2011, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Messages seeking comment from Michelle Christensen’s attorney, Lindsay Kearns of Weaver, Kearns and Bergstrom, were not immediately returned.

Messages for Brendt Christensen’s attorneys in the federal case also were not immediately returned. It’s unclear if he has representation in his divorce case.

The disappearance of Ms. Zhang drew international attention and news coverage. Brendt Christensen also had a girlfriend, who assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the case by wearing a wire to record him, according to federal documents.

His earlier defense attorneys – Bruno Law Offices based in Urbana, Illinois, – argued against the prosecution including statements Brendt Christensen made in private to Michelle Christensen citing “marital privilege” , according to a January 16 Chicago Sun-Times article.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

On Thursday, the University of Illinois dedicated a memorial garden to Ms. Zhang at the site of her disappearance on the Urbana campus.

Brendt Christensen has received an extension for his legal team to seek a mental-health defense when on October 11, U.S. District Court Judge James Shadid granted the request from Christensen’s four-attorney team for the extension until December 3, rather than the original date September 21.

According to the News-Gazette reports, Christensen’s lawyers said they had identified two mental-health experts who are willing to interview the defendant facing death penalty before December, and they are working to identify a third.

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