Trial evidence may be hard to hear

Local News

UPDATE: 7:37 p.m., 6/6/2019

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — As of Thursday night, lawyers have qualified 58 potential jurors for the Brendt Christensen trial.

They’re still trying to get to 70 people by the end of Friday. They will then narrow the pool down to 12 jurors and six alternates. 

Opening statements are scheduled to start on Wednesday.

Original: 10:30 a.m., 6/6/2019

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Less than a week away from the start of Brendt Christensen’s murder trial and there still aren’t enough people approved to be on the jury.

Prosecutors are getting ready to make their case against the man accused of kidnapping and killing UI scholar Yingying Zhange two years ago. Now, there are new concerns about how the evidence will be presented and who will hear it.

It’s day four of jury selection and it’s not known which members of the public will decide Christsensen’s fate. But, federal prosecutors are worried they might have trouble hearing the evidence.

Assistant US attorneys are asking headphones be provided when recorded audio tapes are played saying some words spoken could be dispute or misheard if played aloud in the courtroom. The concern was news to Christensen’s defense team, but the judge noted the request.

Then, there was a new round of interviewing potential jurors. When asked whether serving would be a hardship for them, several raised concerns about planned summer vacations.

“A family vacation is not a legal excuse.”

Veteran Urbana lawyer Steve Beckett says it can still be a tough call for the court.

“The goal is to have a diverse jury. You don’t want a jury that consists of people my age that don’t go anywhere, but on the other hand, put yourself in the place of the lawyers. You’ve got a juror who doesn’t want to be there. The vacation is a family vacation; it’s been planned for years, it’s been paid for! And everybody else is going to be there but me? I’m the juror. Where’s my mind going to be?”

Beckett is also serving as a representative for the Zhang family. He says he sees them every day and keeps them updated.

“The emotional strain on this family started June 9, 2017. Hasn’t gotten any better and one wonders, we’ll just have to see if this trial makes it better.”

Beckett says it can be harder to gather a jury pool during the summer because of childcare, vacations and other reasons, but the goal is to get to 70 people. Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday. 

Original: 10:00 am, 6/6/19, Thursday

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — When Brendt Christensen’s trial starts next week, everyone in the courtroom could be wearing headphones.

Assistant US Attorney Eugene Miller told judge James Shadid he’s concerned the room’s acoustics could cause reverberation when recorded audio tapes are played. He says there are portions in which the words being spoken could be disputed or misheard if they’re played aloud.

Miller told Shadid his team wants headphones to be available to make it easier for participants to hear.

“Is the defense aware of this?” Shadid asked Christensen’s legal team. “They are now,” replied Assistant Public Defender Elisabeth Pollock.

Throughout the week, several potential jurors have told the judge they’re concerned serving would interfere with their family vacations.

Many of them are already paid for, and have been planned for a year. Shadid said he would address those concerns individually and in his chambers.

One potential juror told Shadid she knew a man on the witness list. She said she knew him as a customer at the place she works. Shadid asked if that relationship would interfere with her ability to serve. She said it wouldn’t.

As of Thursday morning, 45 potential jurors had been qualified. The goal is to reach 70 by the end of the week. Opening statements are scheduled to start Wednesday.

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