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Suspect in murder of Marine wife in California appears in Anchorage court

Jerzy Shedlock
Christopher Lee appeared in an Anchorage court on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. Police say Lee has been charged with homicide in San Bernardino County, Calif. He was arrested by Anchorage police. Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News

An ex-Marine from Alaska accused of killing a California woman and dumping her body in a remote desert mine shaft made an initial court appearance at the Anchorage Correctional Complex courtroom Tuesday.

The state has charged Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, for being a fugitive from justice. Assistant District Attorney Heather Nobrega requested bail be set at $2 million “cash only,” which the court granted.

Also on Tuesday, San Bernardino, California District Attorney Michael Ramos announced that a murder charge has been filed against Lee. The felony complaint says Lee killed his alleged lover “intentionally ... by means of lying in wait.” That allegation increases the potential sentence of life in prison without parole to the death penalty, Ramos said in a news release.

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

A California Superior Court issued two arrest warrants for Lee. One set Lee’s bail at $2 million; the other had a no bail condition. Alaska requires setting bail and adheres to the amount decided by the Outside court, Nobrega said.

According to court documents out of San Bernardino, Lee killed his 19-year-old neighbor, Erin Corwin, who authorities say Lee was having an affair with. Corwin’s husband, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, reported Erin missing on June 29 after she didn’t return from a trip to Joshua Tree National Park the previous day.

Search warrants indicate Lee became the focus of Erin Corwin’s disappearance, though investigators said the missing-person case wasn’t criminal and they had no suspects. However, police searched Lee’s residence and vehicles, according to court documents.

He was arrested on suspicion of possessing a “destructive device.” After posting bail, Lee was honorably discharged from the Marines, and he moved back to Anchorage.

Eight weeks passed, and searchers combed areas in Joshua Tree National Park. Corwin’s body was discovered Saturday. Two days later, Anchorage police assisted in Lee’s arrest.

Lee has an extraditable warrant out of California. If he challenges extradition, it may be four to six weeks before he can be handed over to Outside authorities.

Lee appeared for his hearing wearing red prison clothing, instead of the yellow that most Anchorage jail inmates wear. The difference typically indicates that inmate is segregated from the general population.

With his beard grown and hair unkempt, Lee said he’d speak with his attorney before making his decision on extradition. Nobrega interjected, stating she was not clear if he had an attorney. Lee’s family, sitting in the back of the courtroom, replied that he did. The lawyer practices in California, so the judge set a representation hearing for Lee.

One of the family members tried to comment in court but was hushed by family. The woman declined to comment after the hearing.

Ramos said the investigation is ongoing and no further details were available.

“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.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article transposed words quoted from the felony complaint.