Jury pool still one short

Local News

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Court is in recess for the for the weekend, short by one qualified potential juror.

Jury selection for Brendt Christensen’s trial has been going on all week. The goal was to have at least 70 qualified potential jurors, but only 69 have been approved.

Judge James Shadid asked both legal teams if they were okay with that result. They confirmed that they were.

But Shadid had reservations. “We’re really cutting it close,” he said.

He cited the fact that several potential jurors already had personal or scheduling conflicts come up since they’d been qualified. Shadid said he was concerned about the possibility of having fewer alternate jurors.

On Monday, 12 jurors will be selected for the trial. Six alternates were supposed to be selected, although Shadid acknowledged they may only end up with five.

Shadid is discussing with both teams whether more potential jurors should appear to be vetted on Monday morning, ahead of the final selection for the jury scheduled to take place Monday afternoon.

During the potential juror interview portion that happened in open court, one of them told Judge James Shadid she was concerned an upcoming custody trial could interfere with her availability to serve on the jury. 

She says she’s trying to get custody of her grandson after his father was murdered a few months ago. After an individual interview in Shadid’s chambers, she was excused.

Other potential jurors expressed concerns heard frequently this week, such as planned vacations and staffing at work. Three people mentioned medical appointments during the afternoon.

There were a couple of light moments in the courtroom. One woman said she served on a jury for a murder trial about 50 years ago. A few people chuckled.

Later, Shadid asked the pool, “If you were sitting at one of these tables, presenting or defending your case, would you want someone on the jury who thinks like you do?” He noted that everyone answered yes, then said, “Would you believe yesterday somebody said no?” Several people in the courtroom laughed.

Christensen is accused of kidnapping and killing UI scholar Yingying Zhang in June 2017. If found guilty, he faces life in prison or the death penalty.

Zhang’s family hasn’t been in court to watch the proceedings for the past few days. Urbana lawyer Steve Beckett has been serving as liaison and representative for them.

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