Widowed at 21 years of age. This is the story that will weave the threads of the narrative for Master Cpl. Jonathan Corwin's story for the rest of his life. The case of his wife, missing horse whisperer Erin Corwin, has gained international attention, and is one that could remain a high profile murder case for some time. This is due to the fact that terms like "death penalty" and "capital murder" are currently challenges facing the man accused of being responsible for the death of Erin Corwin. Christopher Lee, former neighbor to the victim has been arrested and is facing charges of first degree murder with a special circumstance of "lying in wait." CBS 2 affiliate KESQ out of Palm Springs, California, reported on Aug. 26 that Christopher Lee appeared in court this week and has pled not guilty to these charges. Additionally, the widower of the victim, member of the Marine Corps Master Cpl. Jonathan Corwin has spoken publicly for the first time since the disappearance of his wife.
On June 28, 19-year-old Erin Corwin left her home and husband Master Cpl. Jonathan Corwin at approximately 7 A.M. to visit Joshua Tree National Park in San Bernardino, California. Erin was not seen again until Aug. 16, when her body was recovered from the 125-foot deep Rosa of Peru Mine Shaft just outside Joshua Tree National Park.
Before Erin was recovered from the mine shaft, a massive search was conducted for several weeks by law enforcement, while loved ones near to Erin's heart were hoping for the best possible outcome, that they would be able to one day hug Erin and see her smiling face again. During that timeframe a wide body of speculation surrounded the individual accused of the crime, as well as the wife of the accused who made some very peculiar statements in the aftermath of Erin's disappearance.
Speculations that Erin was pregnant at the time of her disappearance, along with speculations that Christopher Lee was the father of the alleged unborn child, have long been reported as possible motives for the killing of Erin Corwin. If indeed these speculations are true, according to California Penal Code section 187, the accused faces a very long, uphill battle, and also possibly the death penalty.
CBS 2 affiliate KESQ out of Palm Springs, California, reported yesterday Aug. 26 that 24-year-old Christopher Lee appeared in Joshua Tree Superior Court before Judge Rod Cortez for his first arraignment in facing charges of first degree murder with a special circumstance allegation of "lying in wait." According to KESQ, Christopher Lee appeared in court looking clean shaven and clean cut, and wearing a dark blue jumpsuit.
Video provided by KESQ shows a serious and expressionless Christopher Lee entering the courtroom and listening intently to his attorney as the charges were read. In less than ten minutes, his attorney pled not guilty on his behalf. The judge then remanded Christopher Lee to custody without bail.
The term "lying in wait" is a special circumstance related to first degree murder charges under California Penal Code. It is clear from statements made by the attorney for the accused, criminal defense attorney David Kaloyanides, that the evidence currently complied to substantiate the "lying in wait" circumstance remains to be seen. He told KESQ,
"We need to see exactly where that [lying in wait circumstance] comes from. We have very limited information about the investigation. I'm not sure what evidence would support that. I'm not sure what evidence supports the claim that Mr. Lee's done anything other than…knowing the victim."
One can't help but wonder if Mr. Kaloyanides has read the arrest warrants and previous reports on the case currently against his client Christopher Lee?
Previous reports based on arrest warrants filed in the case indicate that bullet casings, rebar, and tire marks are currently connecting Christopher Lee to the crime of the murder of Erin Corwin. Shortly after her disappearance, tire marks near the location of where her own car was found were found to be consistent with tire treads from the Jeep of the accused. The Toronto Relationships Examiner has also reported that the accused has admitted to performing Internet searches on "how to dispose of a body."
Did the accused also forget to tell his lawyer this? If reports of these alleged searches are found to be true, searches such as this will certainly lend weight to the special circumstance charge of "lying in wait."
Additionally, early in the search for Erin Corwin, while loved ones and a man who is now her widower awaited and hoped for her safe return, bullet casings were found in Christopher's Jeep. Firearms were recovered from his home, but no firearm matching those casings has yet to be found. The most recent warrant on Christopher Lee also indicates that .22 casings were found on or near Erin when she was recovered from the Rose of Peru Mine Shaft, that match those previously recovered from his vehicle.
Many media outlets have reported that the special circumstance of "lying in wait" regarding the charges Christopher Lee is facing simply means that this means the accused is "lying in wait" and has been denied bond. This is not necessarily the case. The accused has indeed been held without bond in light of the seriousness of these charges, however the special circumstance attached to his charges has a legal meaning that appears more sinister than the simple circumstance of being held without bail.
The Lectric Law Library lexicon describes the legal term "lying in wait" in terms of the special circumstance charge when related to murder charges, citing cases People. V. Sims, P. 2d 992 and quoting People v. Morales, 770 P.2d 244 (Cal.),
"According to California criminal law, the phrase 'lying in wait' describes both a special circumstance and a theory of first degree murder. The factual situation necessary to sustain a jury's finding of lying in wait as a special circumstance is: 'an intentional murder, committed under circumstances which include (1) a concealment of purpose, (2) a substantial period of watching and waiting for an opportune time to act, and (3) immediately thereafter, a surprise attack on an unsuspecting victim from a position of advantage.' "
While Christopher Lee has been facing these charges, widower of the victim, Master Cpl. Jonathan Corwin of the Marine Corps has spoken out for the first time since her disappearance. On Monday Aug. 25, following a vigil and memorial for Erin, Jonathan Corwin spoke with the Desert Sun exclusively about how he has been doing since he first reported the disappearance of his wife, the morning after she left for Joshua Tree National Park.
"I had some hope, but overall, I expected the worst. It's basically the only thing you can do after so much time. I have closure now. I know she is in heaven, now. She is in a better place, in no more pain."
Jonathan Corwin has known Erin since they were both in middle school, and told The Desert Sun that he has nothing but fond memories of his wife. He remembers attending their high school prom together, as like many girls, it was her first special night of getting all dressed up. He told the Desert Sun there was "just something about the way she looked that night."
Jonathan Corwin also told the Desert Sun he had already known about the alleged affair between his wife and his neighbor Christopher Lee. He stated that he felt it had only been short lived, and that it had even passed by the time of her disappearance. Today, he is trying to forgive Christopher Lee, his former friend, and former Marine colleague.
"Obviously, I hate the actions that he did. But I feel like, if I let him bring hatred to my mind every time I see him, he is just going to pull me down. When I first figured out about the affair, and everything, he was still my next door neighbor. There was a part of me that wanted to go take care of him. But if I did that, I would be in the same boat as him – I would be a bad guy. And that is just not me."
The "bad guy" that Jonathan references is Christopher Lee, who is facing first degree murder charges with a special circumstance of "lying in wait." According to section 187 of the Penal Code of California, murder there is defined as "the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought." It is considered first degree when the special circumstance of lying in wait is applied.
Those accused of first degree murder in California face 25 years-to-life. If a jury also found the accused guilty of the special circumstance, and if this becomes a capital case, the death penalty goes on the table for possible sentences. Under California law, a capital murder can apply in up to 20 different situations, and more, that include (but are not limited to a number of situations including murder for financial gain, murdering a law enforcement officer or government official, or murdering more than one victim.
Capital murder is considered the most serious crime an individual can commit in California, and leads to sentencing of either the death penalty, or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Additionally, if a firearm is used in the commission of the crime, an additional sentence can be applied that ranges from 10 to 25 years.
A strike on the individual's record will also be applied, a fine of up to $10,000 in victim restitution can be applied, and the accused may also lose their right to possess firearms in the future.
From what it looks like, according to California Penal Code section 187, if reports are confirmed pending the complete autopsy of Erin Corwin that she was indeed pregnant, Christopher Lee faces a very long uphill battle in facing these charges. Whether or not Erin Corwin was pregnant at the time of her death will likely make all of the difference when it comes to the determination of whether or not this is a capital case.
The Toronto Relationships Examiner has previously reported that speculations are wide that in fact Erin was pregnant at the time of her disappearance. Additionally we have learned that the District Attorney's office is indicating the full autopsy results on Erin Corwin are expected within 4 to 6 weeks.
If Christopher Lee is convicted of murder, and she was pregnant, due to an alleged multiple homicide, the chances that he will face the death penalty are high. California Penal Code does not dictate the length of term a pregnant woman must be at in order to determine if the death of an unborn child is a homicide. Who the father of the fetus is at the time of death is also not listed as relevant according to the Penal Code of California.
California Penal Code only qualifies a murder charge as the "unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought."
Do you think Christopher Lee is going to wind up facing the death penalty? Do you think his wife Nichole Lee may be facing obstruction charges, or worse, in connection with the death of Erin Corwin?