2nd murder charge may be filed in death of Marine wife

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (USA TODAY) — California law is clear about the murder of an unborn child, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said Wednesday.

In addition to a murder charge for the death of the mother, a murder charge can be filed for an unborn child of just four to six weeks development, Ramos said.

Whether Erin Corwin, whose body was found 140 feet down a mine shaft Saturday in the Rose of Peru Mining District east of Joshua Tree National Park, was pregnant and how far along in the pregnancy she might have been is an ongoing "part of the investigation," Ramos said. The additional charge "is a possibility."

Corwin's body was found seven weeks after her husband, a Marine stationed at the base in nearby Twentynine Palms, reported her missing.

An autopsy determined the 19-year-old was the victim of homicide, but further results — such as if she was pregnant — are still pending, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

Christopher Brandon Lee, who lived near the Corwins on the base, was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in her death. Investigators say he and Corwin were having an affair and she could have been carrying his child.

In court documents released Tuesday, investigators said Lee admitted searching the Internet for the best way to dispose of a body and a witness said Lee asked him about the same subject.

Corwin announced on her Facebook page in January that she was pregnant, but her sister-in-law DeeAnna Heavilin said it ended in a miscarriage the next month. However, Corwin was pregnant again according to friends and family.

"We don't know exactly how far along she is with this pregnancy. She only found out about the pregnancy two weeks before she went missing and a doctor hasn't confirmed a due date yet," Heavilin told The Desert Sun in July.

The district attorney said that when he was a trial lawyer, he tried the case of Rodney Patrick McNeal, a San Bernardino probation officer who killed his pregnant wife.

"He was convicted of two counts of murder," Ramos said.

Scott Peterson sits on death row for murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son in Modesto in 2002.

A special circumstance allegation of "lying in wait" also was filed Tuesday against Lee.

"He concealed his purpose. The facts indicate they were going on a little trip in the desert," Ramos said about Lee. "He waited and watched for an opportunity to do this. And he did. He created that opportunity. It was a surprise attack on the person. He had a position of advantage on this person.

"We feel the facts will indicate that of course she was surprised at the time of the killing."

Lee told investigators on the morning Corwin disappeared that he was collecting tires. A tire was found at the mine shaft scene along with .22-caliber cartridge casings.

"Tires are a relevant way to dispose of a body," the district attorney said.

Lee, 24, made his first appearance in court in connection with the case Tuesday in Alaska. He is being held on $2 million bail and authorities await word on if he will waive or fight extradition to San Bernardino County.

His wife, Nichole Lee, was videotaped in the court audience by a local news station. She is considered a "person of interest" in the case, according to the sheriff's department. The district attorney said it is standard procedure to investigate if other people were involved in these types of cases.

Lee was arrested in a traffic stop at 10 p.m. Sunday in Alaska — 30 minutes after Corwin's body was identified by dental records.

With the help of the FBI and Alaska State Patrol, the sheriff's department "did an excellent job to keep an eye on him to make sure we knew where he was," Ramos said.


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