Murder Charges Filed in Missing Marine Wife Case

Christopher Lee could face the death penalty if convicted of killing Erin Corwin

Murder charges were filed Tuesday morning against the man prosecutors believe killed the 19-year-old wife of a fellow Marine and disposed of her body in a 14-story abandoned mine in a remote Southern California desert.

Christopher Brandon Lee, 23, is charged in the murder of Erin Corwin. Investigators have said they were having an affair and that Corwin may have been pregnant with Lee's baby.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos also filed a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait against Lee, an allegation that could set the stage for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. They have not yet decided whether to do so.

"The decision regarding which penalty will be sought will be made after a full review of the facts and evidence in the case," Ramos said in a statement.

Lee was arrested Sunday in Alaska, a day after police located Corwin's remains in mine shaft.

Corwin's cause of death has not been disclosed, but an arrest warrant released Tuesday said .22-caliber "fired cartridge casings and pieces of rebar" were found at the scene.

"The head stamp on the fired cartridge was consistent with head stamps on .22-caliber casings recovered from Lee's vehicle and Lee's residence," the warrant stated.

The warrant also said Lee admitted to conducting Internet searching about how to dispose of a human body.

Corwin was last seen leaving her Twentynine Palms home on June 28. She told her husband she was headed to Joshua Tree National Park to look for hiking trails, authorities said.

Her husband, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, reported her missing the next day. Erin Corwin’s car was found in Twentynine Palms two days after she disappeared.

Corwin, 19, had a possible secret relationship with 24-year-old then-Marine Cpl. Christopher Lee, both Lee's neighbor and Corwin's friend told investigators, according to a court documents.

Lee lived next door to Corwin and her husband, with his wife and family. Investigators said in a search warrant that Lee and Corwin had begun having an affair in February, and that she may have been three months pregnant with his baby. Investigators believe that may have been a motive for her murder.

Volunteers spent nearly eight weeks combing 300 acres of remote desert nearby before a special team with the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner's Department found Corwin’s body in a 140-foot deep abandoned mine shaft just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, officials said Monday.

Lee appeared in court in Alaska Tuesday afternoon for an initial hearing. He did not waive his right to an extradition hearing, officials said.

It could be four to six weeks before Lee arrives in SoCal, Ramos said.

"Once again, we are faced with a terrible crime that shows absolutely no regard for the value of human life,” Ramos said. "Make no mistake that this office will fight to see that justice is carried out for our victim and her family."

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