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Judge lets lawyers in Illinois abduction case withdraw

URBANA, Ill. (AP) — A judge has allowed lawyers for a 27-year-old suspect in the abduction of a University of Illinois scholar from China to withdraw from the case on grounds he can’t foot the legal bills.

U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce said at a Friday hearing in Urbana that a defense attorney paid for by federal funds would now be brought in to represent Brendt Christensen.

He’s accused of kidnapping 26-year-old Yingying Zhang off campus as she headed to sign an apartment lease. Investigators believe she’s dead, though her body hasn’t been found.

Outgoing attorney Thomas Bruno said in court documents that Christensen can’t afford to pay his firm for work that could eventually include preparing a death-penalty defense.

A trial date is set for Feb. 27.

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