Ex-Marine pleads not guilty in murder of Erin Corwin; Coroner se - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Ex-Marine pleads not guilty in murder of Erin Corwin; Coroner seals autopsy

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JOSHUA TREE, Calif. (CBS 8/AP) - A former Marine has pleaded not guilty to killing the pregnant wife of another Marine.

Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, entered the plea Tuesday to first-degree murder with a special allegation of lying in wait. The San Bernardino County District Attorney will decide whether to seek the death penalty at a future date.

Lee was arrested in Alaska on Aug. 17 after the body of 19-year-old Erin Corwin was found down a 100-foot mine shaft near Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert. The Tennessee native went missing June 28.

Prosecutors say that Corwin and the married Lee were lovers. Her husband, Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, and Lee were both stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine base and lived there as neighbors.

Authorities say bullet casings and rebar found near Corwin link Lee to the killing.

Lee is accused of meeting up with Corwin off base, murdering her in the desert, and dumping her body in the mine shaft.

The judge ordered Lee held without bail and set another hearing for Sept. 16. Lee's defense attorney, David Kaloyanides, told reporters the case could take some time to go to trial.

“Right now, we don't have any of the discovery. It's going to take a while in a case of this magnitude to get any information from the district attorney's office so we can evaluate what the evidence is,” said Kaloyanides outside court.

Corwin's husband was also in court but did not comment to news organizations. On Monday, he made a public appearance at a vigil held for Erin in Twentynine Palms.  He said he fell in love with Erin in high school in Tennessee.  At the vigil, Friends remembered Erin as a shy teenager who loved animals.

“We have to remember that she's a person first. She's a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend and so much more to so many different people. And that's who she needs to be remembered as,” said friend Michelle Doute.

Mine and cave rescue teams spent seven weeks searching for Corwin using video cameras with lights to search more than 90 mine shafts.

Doug Billings was part of the massive search team that eventually found Corwin's remains. He spoke to CBS News 8 in a telephone interview.

Doug Billings, Mine Search Team Member
(Extended Interview Audio Clips):


“It was just an open shaft. No wood, no nothing lining it. It went down 95 feet to a ledge and that's where she rested,” said Billings.

“There were tons of volunteers from all walks of life, regular search and rescue, cave search and rescue, people making food and getting us water, running radios and flying helicopters. Without all that together it would have been impossible,” Billings said.

The San Bernardino County Coroner has not confirmed whether Corwin was pregnant and the office will not release her cause of death, telling CBS News 8 in a letter from county counsel that the autopsy will remain sealed until the criminal case is adjudicated.

Prosecutors have said Christopher Lee's 23-year-old wife, Nichole, remains a person of interest in the ongoing investigation.

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