Yingying Zhang murder trial moves forward, prosecutors go unpaid


    Yingying Zhang murder trial moves forward, prosecutors go unpaid. (WCCU)<p>{/p}

    The Yingying Zhang murder case is being tried in federal court, which means the partial government shutdown has some major implications for those involved.

    U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois John Milhiser said federal prosecutors aren’t getting paid and haven’t been since the shutdown started 32 days ago.

    But with or without a paycheck, Milhiser said prosecutors remain focused on their mission to get justice for victims.

    “The mission of the office and the contingency plan that has been put in place by the Department of Justice is to continue with criminal litigation and the cases that are essential to public safety...,” Milhiser said.

    Cases like the one against Brendt Christensen, the man accused of kidnapping and killing missing University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang.

    Due to the government shutdown, the three U.S. assistant attorneys prosecuting this capitol case are putting in countless man hours that will go unpaid until the shutdown ends.

    “I think the general angst of the unknown, and not knowing when you’re going to get paid again, I think that’s difficult for all the employees,” Milhiser said.

    As part of the partial government shutdown, FBI agents are also going unpaid.

    In the past two months, six current FBI agents have been called by federal prosecutors to testify about their ongoing investigation into Yingying’s disappearance.

    "Every family in the FBI has mortgages, car payments, bills that come in at the end of the month and you have to pay those out,” FBI Agents Assoc. President Tom O’Connor said. “Try doing that without a paycheck. Nothing has gone into any of our personal checkbooks, but we still have to make payments on our our daily lifeso it affects everyone.”

    The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts put out yet another notice on Tuesday about the shutdown, saying the Judiciary has funds to operate through Jan. 31. The updated memo instructs federal courts to limit their expenses to “mission critical work”, like the Christensen case.

    All criminal cases will continue during the shutdown, but the notice states if the government shutdown extends past Feb. 1, it will be up to the clerk of courts to only maintain courthouse staffing that is essential to a mission critical caseload.

    Christensen will be back at the Federal Courthouse in Urbana on Feb. 4 for a pre-trial hearing.

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