JOSHUA TREE, California — A former Marine must go to trial in the killing of the wife of a fellow serviceman who might have believed she was going off into the Mojave Desert for a marriage proposal before she died.
Christopher Brandon Lee, 25, was ordered Thursday to stand trial for first-degree murder in the death of Erin Corwin, 19, whose body was found last year in a remote desert mine shaft. Lee has pleaded not guilty.
Friends have told investigators that Corwin, whose husband was stationed with Lee at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base, believed she was pregnant and that Lee might be the father, even though he was married.
An autopsy was unable to confirm a pregnancy due to the decomposition of Corwin's body.
Eleven prosecution witnesses were presented at a preliminary hearing for Lee.
Lee's attorney, David Kaloyanides, briefly cross-examined each witness but did not present any defense witnesses, The Desert Sun of Palms Springs reported (http://desert.sn/1P2RUQA).
Outside court, Kaloyanides said he was aware of a significant problem with the prosecution's case, but he did not discuss it further or raise the issue in the hearing, the newspaper reported.
Text messages sent by Corwin were read during testimony by Jessica Trentham, a friend who said she asked Corwin if she expected Lee to give her an engagement ring during their planned desert trip.
"She said maybe," Trentham testified. "With lots of exclamation points."
Corwin vanished on June 28. A search team found her remains in the 100-foot-deep shaft seven weeks later.
San Bernardino County sheriff's homicide Detective Jonathan Woods testified that Corwin likely was strangled with a garrote made from rebar and nylon rope that was found in the mine shaft with the body. He said a similar garrote was found in Lee's Jeep, and colorful climbing rope was found in the mine shaft and the Jeep.
Aisling Malakie, a neighbor of Lee, testified she had heard him brag about how he could get away with murder and conceal a body by burying it under a coyote carcass. On cross-examination she could neither remember when the conversation took place nor the circumstances.
Malakie's husband, Conor, testified he also heard Lee talk about disposing of bodies.
Conor Malakie also said he saw a propane tank in Lee's Jeep and asked what it was for on the day Corwin vanished. The witness said Lee told him that he planned to use it to "blow up a mine shaft," but later stated it did not work.
A propane tank was found in the mine shaft, The Desert Sun said.