Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mothers Of The Disappeared



In the wind we hear their laughter
In the rain we see their tears
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

Song: "Mothers of the Disappeared"
Album: The Joshua Tree 
Artist: U2

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sentencing For Convicted Murderer Christopher Lee Scheduled For Tuesday Morning

Christopher Brandon Lee, who was convicted on Nov. 3, 2016 of murdering Erin Corwin, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. The sentencing hearing is slated for 8:30 a.m. in the courtroom of Judge J. David Mazurek, who presided over Lee's murder trial.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, Mazurek doesn't really have any legal wiggle room in the sentence he hands down. According to FindLaw.com, Mazurek must automatically give Lee life in prison WITHOUT the possibility of parole because the jury found Lee guilty of murder in the first degree with the special circumstance of lying in wait:

"State laws require a sentence of life imprisonment without parole or death for homicides involving special circumstances set by the California Penal Code."
The death penalty was taken off the table before Lee's trial began on Oct. 11, 2016. Erin Corwin's mother, Lore Heavilin, is expected to be present at the sentencing.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Christopher Lee GUILTY Of First Degree Murder With Special Circumstance Of Lying In Wait

Erin Corwin/Facebook
A jury has found Christopher Brandon Lee guilty of first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait, in the 2014 killing of 19-year-old Erin Corwin.

The courtroom at San Bernardino County Superior Court was packed when the verdict was read at approximately 1:45 p.m. PDT.

Leah Sanson, reporter for the Hi Desert Star, described the scene:

"The courtroom was completely quiet as the foreman read the verdict. Lee sat silently in the defendant’s chair as behind him, in the audience, his mother began to cry.

"His wife, Nichole Lee, was not in the room."

Prosecutor Sean Daugherty told Desert Sun reporter Colin Atagi that Lee will be sentenced Nov. 29. 

The judge must automatically sentence Lee to life in prison WITHOUT the possibility of parole. According to FindLaw.com:

"State laws require a sentence of life imprisonment without parole or death for homicides involving special circumstances set by the California Penal Code."

The San Bernardino District Attorney's office put out a press release that reads, in part:

"This was a terrible crime that showed absolutely no regard for the value of human life," District Attorney Mike Ramos said. "Erin Corwin was just a young girl with her entire life ahead of her. And now, all that's left is her memory. While justice was served today, it can only be a small consolation to her family and friends who will have to suffer a lifetime of pain knowing she died such a senseless death."
 
"The murder of Erin Corwin was solved by solid investigative work and devoted volunteers committing thousands of hours during the eight-week search," said Sheriff John McMahon. "We can't erase the pain felt by Erin's loved ones, but we will do everything in our power to imprison the criminal responsible for her murder."

The death penalty was removed as an option before the trial began, according to Christopher Lee (yes, same name), the public affairs officer for the San Bernardino District Attorney's office

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Day Ten - Defense Closing Argument And Prosecution Rebuttal

Erin Corwin and her mom, Lore Heavilin/Facebook
It's kind of difficult to write about the closing argument of defense attorney David Kaloyanides. He spoke to the jury in a very commanding and forceful way. But it was the content of what he said that didn't make sense to me.

He interpreted the evidence a certain way, and tried to convince the jury to interpret it as he did. Basically, that Christopher Brandon Lee is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, because the prosecution didn't prove its case for first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait.

I think anyone who has been reading this blog knows this just isn't true. The evidence is simply overwhelming that Lee planned to murder Erin Corwin as soon as he learned she was pregnant with his baby. Lee came up with the molestation "confession" nonsense so he could try and hoodwink the jury into believing there was provocation to kill Erin. To me, Lee's provocation claim defies all logic and common sense

Fortunately, ADA Sean Daugherty had the last word in the form of his rebuttal. He equated Kaloyanides' plea to the jury to ignore all of Lee's previous lies, to the Wizard's plea in "The Wizard of Oz" to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

He argued against Kaloyanides' assertion that the video of Erin's body in the mine shaft proved Lee threw Erin in after all of the mine blowing-up materials. Daugherty proved Kaloyanides' claim was incorrect by showing video of Erin's body in the mine shaft, with one of the tires clearly covering Erin's head. As Dr. Frank Sheridan testified, Erin suffered a fracture to the skull while her heart was still beating. He believed the fracture was caused by a blow to the head, not from her head hitting an object (like the bottom of the mine shaft). Daugherty suggested to the jury that it was the tire falling on Erin after Lee threw her in the mine shaft that caused that fracture.

Oh, one more thing. Guess who showed up for the prosecution's rebuttal case? Nichole Lee. She was not wearing her infamous white shoes, but red platform pumps and a black skirt suit. She also had on a necklace from which a giant cross hung. From her seat next to other courtroom observers, she spoke out at least twice during Daugherty's rebuttal, but I could not hear exactly what she said, so I doubt the jury could.

Now the jury has the case. I believe those reading this blog want the same thing I do - justice for Erin Corwin, and peace for her family. It is a long time coming.

Day Ten - Prosecution's Closing Argument

The day began with Judge J. David Mazurek giving the jury deliberation instructions. When he was finished, it was time for ADA Sean Daugherty to begin his closing arguments.

Jon and Erin Corwin
As he did with his opening statement, Daugherty used a Power Point presentation to illustrate his closing arguments to the jury. He began with a photo of Erin Corwin, to remind everyone who this trial is really about. He said of Erin that she was a young lady from Tennessee who loved horses. And that the case is about, "...the brutality that was inflicted upon her."

Daugherty said the perpetrator of that brutality was Christopher Brandon Lee, and he killed her because he wanted to remove her from his life:

"She was a secret who didn't want to be a secret anymore."

Daugherty then put Lee's mugshot up on the screen, showing him as the overweight, slovenly, bearded, wife-beater wearing ex-Marine he was when he was arrested for murdering Erin. Quite the contrast from the slim, clean-cut, well-dressed young man seated at the defendant's table.

Daugherty laid out the chronology of what he believes happened:
  • On June 22, 2014, Erin Corwin discovered she was pregnant after a trip to the ER.
  • That same day, Christopher Lee visited the mine where he would eventually abandon Erin's body, and took a photograph of that mine. (Daugherty would later surmise in his rebuttal that Erin had already told Lee she suspected she was pregnant with his baby.)
  • That following week, Christopher Lee began Googling "how to dispose of a dead body" and even went as far as asking fellow Marine Andrew Johnson about the possibility of getting rid of a dead body at the Amboy salt pools.
  • Johnson testified he saw Lee make a list of materials like a shovel and the chemical "Lye" that same day. 
  • Lee began planning a hunting trip and invited friends he knew in advance wouldn't be able to come with him. "This was a ruse," Daugherty told the jury.
  • He told Erin he was taking her on a surprise getaway to celebrate her pregnancy.
  • He took Erin on this trip June 28, 2014, with everything he would need to commit a murder (the garrote) and dispose of a body (the propane tank, the water jugs filled with gasoline, tires).
Daugherty told the jury the defendant's testimony was all about attempting to reduce the charge against him from first degree murder to second degree murder. He called Lee a conman:

"It (his testimony) was scripted, it was rehearsed, it was meant to con you."

Daugherty again ripped to shreds Lee's ludicrous claim that Erin confessed to molesting his daughter. When Nichole Lee supposedly suspected her daughter had been molested, NEITHER parent:
  • Called the police
  • Visited a pediatrician
  • Discussed concerns of abuse with Lee's military superiors.
Daugherty called Lee's molestation accusation "asinine garbage." And Erin's so-called "confession" to Lee?
"This NEVER happened."
He then asked the jury the rhetorical question:

"If a man who crafts lies to suit his own needs and to everyone important in his life, what do you think he's going to do to you?"

I'll post the defense's closing statement and the prosecution's rebuttal later this evening...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Day Ten - Closing Arguments Expected Wednesday, After Both Sides Rest Their Cases

Christopher Brandon Lee was back on the stand this morning, as prosecutor Sean Daugherty hadn't completed his cross-examination of the defendant when court broke for recess on Thursday.

Erin Corwin/Facebook
Once again, Daugherty picked apart all of the inconsistencies in Lee's versions of events. If Lee wanted to go hunting with Conor Malakie on the last day of Erin's life, then why didn't he take ANY steps to meet up with him? If Lee didn't want to get caught up in a "long, drawn-out" conversation with Erin about their future together, then why did he do everything in his power to get her to go with him, even suggesting he had a special surprise for her?

Daugherty also questioned why Lee would play Russian Roulette every day for a month, as the defendant claimed, if he was so worried about leaving his daughter Liberty without a father?

Another tidbit that Daugherty shared with the jury - apparently Lee wanted to wear his Marine Corps uniform for his trial. This is the uniform from the same Marine Corps he was so disappointed in that it prompted him to play Russian Roulette and seduce his 19-year-old neighbor? Please.

Again, Daugherty questioned Lee about all the coincidences he claims happened in the weeks, days, and moments leading up to Erin's murder; It was a coincidence Lee just happened to have a homemade garrote ("a weapon of stealth, a weapon of surprise" as Daugherty called it) on hand - and in his hand - when he was filled such with murderous rage against Erin that he strangled her.

Here are a few quotes from Chris Lee's testimony, many of which contradict each other, describing his mindset before, during, and after he strangled to death Erin Corwin:

"I made the decision to kill her, I did."

"To me it was an instant and an eternity in the same moment."

"Physically I could have stopped."

"I didn't lose my mind, Mr. Daugherty, I just wasn't able to stop."

"It was something I had to do."

"I was controlled by the anger, the hate I felt that day."

"The hate commanded me."

"Anger and hate and that's what moved me forward."

Daugherty got Lee to admit that after strangling her to death, Lee dragged Erin over to the mine shaft using the handles of the garrote that was still around her neck. "She went in head first," said Lee, without a hint of authentic emotion.

Daugherty wrapped up his cross with some stellar points:
  • Why would Erin chose to confess to molesting Lee's daughter in the middle of nowhere, where she had no car, no cell service, no way to call for help, NO MEANS OF ESCAPE? 
  • Where were Erin's shoes, cell phone, and car keys? If events occurred as Lee claimed they did, they should all have been on her person when she was discovered in the mine. They weren't.
On re-re-direct, David Kaloyanides asked about the demonstration of the murder Lee participated in last Thursday at Daugherty's request. Lee attempted to eliminate any premeditation from his action, saying that when he actually murdered Erin, time for him was "fluid" and there was no distinction between the moment he realized he had the homemade garrote in his hand and the five minutes it took to strangle the life out of 19-year-old Erin Corwin.

On re-re-cross (if that's what it's called) Daugherty got Lee to admit the previous false stories he told to law enforcement were shaped based on what evidence he believed the police already had. Now that Lee knows all of the evidence against him (DNA, shell casings, cell phone locations, etc.) he is shaping his testimony before the jury to match this testimony.

But in both cases, Lee blamed his actions on Erin.

Yet as Daugherty reminded the jury in one of his final exchanges with Lee, Erin couldn't have defended herself.

"She had no idea what was coming."

Lee was the only witness for the defense. Detective Woods was called as the sole rebuttal witness for the prosecution, just to re-establish Erin was not wearing shoes, and had no car keys with her, when she was discovered in the mine shaft.

Both sides have rested. The judge spent Tuesday afternoon with Daugherty and Kaloyanides going over jury instructions and what exhibits will be allowed during deliberation.

Court is back in session Wednesday at 10 a.m.

All murder which is perpetrated by means of a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, knowing use of ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor, poison, lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, or any act punishable under Section 206, 286, 288, 288a, or 289, or any murder which is perpetrated by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, intentionally at another person outside of the vehicle with the intent to inflict death, is murder of the first degree.  All other kinds of murders are of the second degree.
- See more at: http://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-189.html#sthash.H4endON2.dpu

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Day Nine - The Cross-Examination Of Christopher Lee, And A Visit From Nichole Lee

Erin Corwin/Facebook
Hats off to ADA Sean Daugherty for his patient, calm, methodical cross-examination of Christopher Lee. And he's only just begun. Court doesn't resume until Tuesday, Nov. 1, so we'll have to wait until then to hear how he continues to dismantle Lee's defense of why he killed Erin Corwin.

After the lunch break, the judge called in Nichole Lee, who was wearing a bright blue dress and (I believe) the same white pumps she wore that once garnered a compliment from a juror.

Before the jury was allowed back into the courtroom, Judge J. David Mazurek told Nichole that while the defense no longer wished to call her as a witness, the prosecution was interested in having her testify in its rebuttal case. I noticed Nichole began to shake. She said defiantly to the judge that her lawyer would be present if she was called to testify.

Then, the judge informed Nichole that as Liberty Lee's guardian, she needed to have the child available to testify if the prosecution wished. At this point the shaking increased, and she wiped a tear away from her face. When the judge was finished with her, Nichole stormed out of the courtroom and into the hallway. There was a loud booming sound. (It sounded to me like she threw the sunglasses she was holding, and perhaps her purse, and they hit the ground with a bang.) Everyone in the courtroom could also hear her shouting in the hallway. The bailiff then went outside to the hallway to get her under control.

The jury was let in, took their seats, and defense attorney David Kaloyanides finished his direct examination of his client.

It was now Daugherty's turn to cross-examine Lee.

Daugherty started in by establishing that Lee lied to the detectives who questioned him the day after he murdered Erin, when he claimed did not know her well; Lee lied to these same detectives later in the day in the Vons parking lot, when he called Erin a liar and said he had a brief texting relationship with Erin that only involved kissing; Lee lied to Detective Hanke during the multi-hour interrogation about having a sexual relationship with Erin, about knowing she was pregnant, and about seeing her on June 28, 2014, the day she went missing.

"You lie when you're ashamed of yourself," said Daugherty to Lee. "You lie when you're scared."

"Yes," Lee answered.

"Are you scared now?" Daugherty asked.

"Yes," Lee said, his voice flat.

"You're not lying today to protect yourself?"

"No."

Then Daugherty laid out all of the "coincidences" Lee claimed happened in the weeks, days, and moments leading up to Erin's murder:
  • He Googled how to dispose of a dead body.
  • He had a conversation with fellow Marine Andrew Johnson about the best way to dispose of a dead body, and asked specifically about the Amboy salt pits
  • He drove to the exact mine shaft on the day he murdered Erin that he had visited a week before with friend Joseph Hollifield, and later described to Isabel Megli as a place so remote, "No one would ever find it."
  • He had the murder weapon, a homemade garrote, in his Jeep.
  • He murdered Erin just days before he was scheduled to leave the Marine Corps.
Daugherty also poked holes in Lee's ridiculous assertion that Erin molested Liberty:
  • Chris Lee never called police after Nichole accused Erin of molesting Liberty.
  • Nichole never called police after she "suspected" Erin of molesting Liberty.
  • Neither parent took Liberty to a pediatrician to examine the little girl for signs of abuse.
  • Both Nichole and Chris Lee still allowed Liberty to spend time with Erin.
And there was this exchange:

Daugherty: "You continued having sex with the woman you're wife thought was molesting your daughter?"

Lee: "It wasn't on the forefront of my mind."

The toughest, but most effective part of Daugherty's cross-examination of Lee was when he asked the defendant to demonstrate how he strangled Erin, using a stuffed cloth dummy. Lee stepped down from the stand, took the garrote, and twisted it around the dummy's neck. In one quick, horrifying motion, Lee spun around so that he was facing the opposite way of the dummy, his back touching the dummy's back.

The dummy was jerked up in the air by the force of Lee's action. It was such a shocking moment that I thought I heard a gasp from somewhere in the courtroom. Lee reenacted the murder with such callousness, and RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE JURY, that I can't imagine the jurors weren't as haunted by what they saw as I was.

Daugherty interrupted his cross so the court could take its recess, which will last until court resumes Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Apologies again for not posting in a timely manner. The migraine has stayed with me, which is not usual for me. Bad ones usually last about three days. Just grateful that the wonderful readers who visit this blog are so patient with me!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Day Nine - Christopher Brandon Lee Confesses To Murdering Erin Corwin

Erin Corwin/Facebook
Sorry it took me so long to write and post this. I'm battling a Migraine that came on during Christopher Lee's chilling and horrifying testimony. Yes, the defendant's words literally made me ill. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

It's not exactly common for the defendant to testify on his own behalf in a murder trial. So I was shocked when defense attorney David Kaloyanides called Christopher Brandon Lee as his first witness. A fellow courtroom reporter mused it must be to make Lee seem more human for the jury, and I agreed. Boy, were we wrong.

Kaloyanides started with questions of Lee that allowed him to wax poetic on his idyllic childhood in Alaska. Lee said was fond of thing most kids like to do, like play with throwing stars and swords (???). Anyway, soon the questioning moved on to his relationship with Erin. Some key points:
  • Lee admitted he and Erin had a sexual relationship.
  • Lee admitted Erin told him she was pregnant, and that she was upset because she didn't know if Lee or husband Jon Corwin was the father.
  • Lee said he was in love with Erin Corwin, and admitted it was he who wrote the love note that prosecutor Sean Daugherty showed the jury the day before. Lee said he gave it to Erin after Nichole had discovered the affair by looking at the texts he wrote to Erin. 
Then Kaloyanides asked Lee about the day Erin disappeared: June 28, 2014:
  • Lee admitted he picked up Erin at the spot where her car was found off base in Twentynine Palms
  • Lee claimed he was planning to build a tire fire in a remote mine, but didn't tell Erin this little nugget. Instead Lee testified he told Erin he was taking her out "for a surprise" while on a hunting trip.
  • Lee testified he threw down the mine shaft the propane tank, the tires, the water jugs filled with gasoline, and the torch made of his t-shirt and a stick, all to start a mine fire. While doing this, Erin was supposedly just sitting in his Jeep, listening to music.
  • Lee said was so upset he could not start the mine tire fire that he decided to play Russian Roulette in his jeep. This upset Erin, said Lee, so she walked away into an adjacent mine shaft.
  • Lee testified was unable to kill himself with the gun, so he called Erin to come back out of the mine shaft. 
This is where things get dicey. Writing down the excuse Lee gave for murdering Erin - putting down it in black and white - somehow feels like I am giving it legitimacy. I AM NOT. It is such a ludicrous assertion that I believe it will turn any juror against Lee who wasn't already convinced he is a soulless, cruel, lying, cold-blooded murderer.

Lee testified that out in the desert, after his unsuccessful game of Russian Roulette, Erin admitted to him that she had molested his daughter, Liberty. (Lee testified earlier that Nichole saw "suspicious" irritation on Liberty's genitals, and automatically assumed she was molested, and by Erin Corwin, although neither parent called law enforcement or a pediatrician - in fact, both parents continued to let Erin babysit Liberty.)

Lee testified that a "red hot knife went through his heart" upon hearing Erin's "confession" and he lost it. As luck would have it, he just happened to have a garrote in his hand when Erin "confessed" and he got so angry he strangled Erin to death, then dumped her body down the mine shaft.

Lee was calm during his testimony. He looked scared. He appeared to try and express some true emotion, even making crying sounds at one point. But there were no tears, and no tissues were used. His vocal affect was flat, and much of what he said sounded rehearsed to me. We heard him used that same flat, vocal affect during the videotaped interrogation with Det. Hanke, when everything he said was a lie. But now, because he's under oath, he is somehow supposed to be believable?

After this revolting testimony, the court took a lunch break. I'll write about what happened after the lunch break in the next post...

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Day Eight - The Prosecution Rests With A Love Letter

Erin Corwin/Facebook
I'm going to start with the end of the day and work backward, because the final piece of evidence the prosecution presented was truly the coup de grĂ¢ce of an already overwhelming case against defendant Christopher Brandon Lee.

ADA Sean Daugherty showed on the overhead projector a photocopy of a letter that was discovered in Erin Corwin's jewelry box after she disappeared. It was in handwriting that Jon Corwin said was not his own. It was a love poem written in cursive to Erin. This is what it said:

"Like it or not you still hold a part of my heart
Ready or not we were gonna get caught
Don't give up and I won't too
Hopefully like me, you still think 'I love you'"

The fingerprint technicians were able to lift a print from the piece of paper that belonged to Christopher Brandon Lee.


This proved Lee's assertion to law enforcement that his relationship with Erin ended months earlier, and that he'd had not any contact with her, was a lie. 

After the prosecution rested, defense attorney David Kaloyanides made a motion, as virtually all defense attorneys do before they begin their own cases, to have the case against their client dismissed for lack of evidence. (This was AFTER the jury left the courtroom for the day.)

In denying this motion, the usually jovial Judge J. David Mazurek became very serious and told Kaloyanides that the prosecution more than proved its case, and that a reasonable jury would be able to conclude that the defendant was guilty of first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait. Mazurek said there was plenty of evidence proving the defendant planned the murder, while letting the victim believe he was planning a special surprise for her:

"In fact, it was a surprise trip for her, but not in the way she thought."

Someone sitting near me wondering aloud if this was the first time Christopher Lee realized how truly f*cked he was. 

The defense begins its case tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

Day Eight - DNA Evidence Ties Christopher Lee To Mine Where Erin Corwin Was Found

Erin Corwin/Facebook
Court was back in session today after Tuesday's session was cancelled; a juror had a family emergency. The first witness was Dennis B. Key, a Criminalist with San Bernardino County. Key has spent twelve years as a DNA Specialist.

The first part of Key's testimony consisted of explaining what DNA is for the jury. Key was very good at breaking down complicated scientific concepts for laypeople without degrees in biology (like me).

Key testified as to how DNA was obtained from Jon Corwin, Christopher Brandon Lee, and Erin Corwin (at her autopsy).

Here's what Key found:
  • There was DNA consistent with Erin Corwin's DNA on the knob of the propane tank found in the mine shaft where her body was discovered. That DNA excluded both Jon Corwin and Christopher Lee as a match.
  • Blood removed from the outside of one of the water jugs found in the mine shaft were Erin was discovered contained DNA consistent with Erin Corwin. That DNA also excluded both Jon Corwin and Christopher Lee as a match.
  • Key found DNA consistent with Erin Corwin's DNA on the rebar handles of the garrote looped around Erin Corwin's neck. That DNA excluded both Jon Corwin and Christopher Lee as a match.
  • The green t-shirt that was part of the torch found in the mine shaft where Erin Corwin's body was discovered contained DNA that had a one in 16 billion chance of belonging to someone OTHER that Christopher Lee. (The population of the Earth is just 7 billion.) Complicated way of saying the DNA on the shirt belonged to Christopher Lee. DNA on the shirt excluded Erin and Jon Corwin as possible contributors.
  • Swabs taken from the mouth of the Sprite bottle found in the mine where Erin Corwin's body was discovered had two contributors of DNA, one male and one female. The male contributor was Christopher Lee (with a one in 20 quadrillion chance it was NOT Christopher Lee) and the female contributor was Erin Corwin (with a 1 in 1.4 quadrillion chance it was NOT Erin Corwin).
After Key stepped down, Detective Hanke was called back to the stand, so the remainder of the Christopher Lee interrogation video could be played. There was about ten minutes left, which basically consisted of Hanke and his sergeant asking Lee if he had any Google searches on his phone or computer they should know about.

Lee said he looked up the "best way to dispose of a body." He mentioned a Google search produced results like having pigs devour the body, cannibalizing the body and grinding up the bones to dust, and burying a body then placing a dead animal on top of it.  

Lee was asked when he was moving back to Alaska, and he replied July 7. One of the interrogators then replied, "Maybe we'll visit you in Alaska."

Court resumes at 2 p.m. I'll have another post this evening detailing this afternoon's events.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Day Seven - Video Of Christopher Lee Interrogation

San Bernardino Sheriff's Department Sgt. Daniel Hanke was called back to the stand, so the prosecution could continue to play Hanke's videotaped interrogation of Christopher Lee, which took place in the early morning hours of July 1, 2014.

Erin Corwin/Facebook
The first 90 minutes of the interview aired in the courtroom Wednesday of last week. For a review of what was said, you can click here.

ADA Sean Daugherty pushed play, and Chris Lee described to Hanke how his wife Nichole found out about his texting relationship with Erin. Chris said Nichole was suspicious enough to remove the SIM card from his phone, put it in her laptop, and read what her husband was texting to Erin. Chris said Nichole was furious with him, because Chris and Erin both told each other "I love you" via text.

Hanke pressed Chris on his true feelings for Erin. Chris replied:

"I thought I was in love with her, but it was a make-believe life I was in love with."

Hanke asked Chris about the physical contact between Erin and him. Chris said it consisted solely of four kisses. Chris also admitted he considered leaving Nichole for Erin, but he decided against it because of his young daughter, Liberty:

"If I didn't have Liberty, I might have."

Chris also said when he and Erin were at their closest, they never fought.

"We thought we were perfect together."

Hanke then steered the conversation to Chris's movements the weekend Erin disappeared. Chris seemed okay with this, because he described the months he was involved with Erin as...

"Part of my life I wanted to move past."

Chris went through a rough timeline of Friday, June 27, 2014 (the day before Erin went missing) until the following Sunday. Chris said he and Nichole and Liberty went out to White Rock Horse ranch. On the drive home, they stopped at Stater Bros. market so Nichole could buy bread, and Chris could talk to his friend Skyler (not sure about the spelling) in the parking lot about going coyote hunting the next day. Skyler could not because of a shoulder injury.

Chris said he woke up at six on Saturday morning, talked to Conor Malakie about going coyote hunting, then went on the trip by himself. Chris claimed he got lost on the trip, and that at one point, a stranger shot a handgun at him. He also told Hanke he visited a mine (which to me, sounded like the mine shaft next to the one where Erin's body was found) and used his rifle to shoot at rocks to make sure his rifle was "on." He said he picked up all the casings.

When he got home that afternoon, according to Chris, Nichole was in a panic because she hadn't been able to reach him by cell phone all day. Chris said Nichole was crying and even had an asthma attack because of her frantic state.

I'm going to cut to the chase a bit, because detective Hanke and then his sergeant started to corner Chris with evidence they said they had that proved Chris was with Erin on the day she went missing. Keep in mind, law enforcement officials can lie to suspects they are interrogating, and it's perfectly legal. So, Chris was told that his tire tracks matched those that were next to Erin's car (this proved later to be false). But Chris then changed his story, and said he did see Erin's car that morning, drove up to it to check out the tires, and then drove away. He claims he never saw Erin.

Chris was also told that his DNA could be compared to the DNA on file of Erin's embryo. Now, there was no DNA from an embryo. But what struck me is that Chris Lee never said, "Erin was pregnant?" He just listened silently, as if he already knew that she was.

However, despite the detectives pleas to Chris to confess his knowledge of what happened to Erin, he sat stoically, silently, except for the occasional statement:

"I didn't meet her on Saturday."

Time for bed. Court continues tomorrow (Tuesday) at 10 a.m. with the remainder of the Chris Lee videotaped interrogation. Goodnight, all.

Day Seven - Autopsy Details

Dr. Frank Sheridan/The Southern California Medical Museum
The third week of trial started off on a grim note, with Dr. Frank Sheridan called to the stand as the first witness of the day. Sheridan is the Chief Medical Examiner with the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department. He is also the forensic pathologist who conducted Erin Corwin's autopsy.

Sheridan's lilting Irish brogue was quite the juxtaposition to the horrors about which he had to testify. I'm going to leave out some of the more disturbing details, because they don't add anything to the most newsworthy aspects of Sheridan's testimony, and there are other "real" news sources that I'd imagine will contain that information. But here's what I felt were the most important parts of Sheridan's testimony:
  • Upon external examination of Erin's body, Sheridan found a garrote looped around her neck and partially entangled in her hair.
  • Erin's skull sustained numerous fractures, with all but one suffered after death. However, Sheridan testified one fracture above and behind Erin's left ear appeared to be the result of blunt force trauma from being hit with a heavy object either while she was still alive, or very shortly after brain death.
  • Erin also suffered postmortem fractures to her left clavicle and left first rib.
  • Sheridan examined Erin for any signs of pregnancy. He said the severe decomposition of Erin's body hindered his ability to ascertain if she was pregnant at the time of her death.
  • Sheridan said the cause of death was homicidal violence due to strangulation and possible blunt force head injury.
Dr. Sheridan made it a point to say that Erin was strangled to death, but not choked. When a person is choked, their airways are cut off, they cannot breathe, and this leads to eventual death. In Erin's case, according to Dr. Sheridan, Erin was strangled with the garrote. This cut off the blood flow to her brain via the carotid arteries and jugular vein in her neck. Sheridan believes she would have lost consciousness with twenty seconds of the beginning of the strangulation, and suffered brain death within four minutes.

On cross-examination, defense attorney David Kaloyanides pressed Sheridan on whether Erin could have been strangled as much as a day before she suffered the skull fractures and other broken bones. Sheridan it was possible.

I'll post later on this evening about what happened the rest of the day in court - the viewing of the videotaped police interrogation of Christopher Lee.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

UPDATE: Day Six - Afternoon Session With Isabella Megli And Chris Lee Interview Video

Erin Corwin Missing Poster/Pinterest
This post covers the courtroom action for Wednesday's session after the lunch break. Again, there is no court today because a juror suffered a death in her family, and needed the morning to attend what sounded like a funeral service.

Isabella Megli was the first witness called by the prosecution after the lunch break. Megli is the owner of the White Rock Horse Rescue. (She refers to herself as "Isabel Megli" on the White Rock Horse Rescue website, which is why I referred to her that way in previous blog posts.)

I could not see Christopher Lee's face from where I was sitting in the courtroom, but the prosecutor pointed out that the defendant was smiling at Megli. Megli was not smiling back.

Megli testified she met Erin Corwin when Erin sponsored a horse at the ranch. (The horse, Cassy, is pictured below.) Although Megli was not allowed, due to the defense objections of hearsay, to answer many of the questions ADA Sean Daugherty asked her, Megli did make some damaging points:
  • Chris and Nichole Lee were at White Rock Horse Rescue on the afternoon and evening of June 27, 2014, the day before Erin disappeared. Chris asked Megli if he could have her propane tank (which Megli identified as looking like the one found in the mine shaft next to Erin's body). When Megli asked if Chris wanted the tank for a barbecue,  Chris said no, "He was going to use it to 'play games.'"
  • The Sunday before June 28, Christopher Lee told Megli he had been out exploring areas in the desert. He told her he found a mine that was so remote, "No one would ever find it."
  • Megli testified that on June 29, both Nichole and Chris were at Megli's horse ranch. Megli said she heard from Nichole that Erin Corwin was missing. Nichole said she believed Erin was playing a game and hiding but, as Megli testified, "She (Nichole) didn't care if she (Erin) was dead."
  • When the prosecutor asked Megli if Nichole said to her that Christopher Lee was "too stupid to keep his lies straight" she said "Yes."
  • Megli testified that prior to Erin going missing, Nichole Lee told her she wanted to kill Erin, "If Erin didn't stay away from her husband."
  • Megli said Nichole Lee told her after Erin disappeared: "(If) there is no body, there is no case."
  • Megli testified Chris Lee never returned the propane tank he borrowed.
The defense did not cross-examine Megli.

Erin Corwin's horse, Cassy
The next witness was San Bernardino Sheriff's Department Sgt. Daniel Hanke, who conducted a roughly six hour interview with Christopher Lee on July 1, 2014. Ninety minutes of that video was played in court Wednesday afternoon.

Lee went willingly with Hanke to the Sheriff's Department substation. Hanke testified Lee said to him on the drive from base to the sheriff's station:

"I really want to help you guys find her, because as much as she lied to me, I really cared about her."

Hanke started the interview by chatting warmly with Lee about Lee's daughter, his plans for life after leaving the Marines, the annoyance of having to pack up everything and move back to Anchorage, Alaska. Lee was fidgety, scratching his legs often and crossing his arms in front of him.

Lee claimed not to be able to remember simple facts, like where in Oregon a friend of his lived, or even Erin's last name. Lee blamed this fogginess on combat-related memory problems. He also explained why he lied about his relationship with Erin when law enforcement approached him the morning after Erin went missing:

"It didn't seem pertinent at the time."

Hanke asked Lee to describe how his relationship with Erin developed. Lee said the two bonded over their shared unhappiness with their life circumstances. Lee said he was suicidal after returning from a deployment in Afghanistan, because he missed the simplicity of his life there and wanted to go back:

"I was indifferent about life."

Lee said he and Erin first kissed after playing the video game Halo together on Xbox. They also had a shared love of the television show "The Walking Dead." Lee told Hanke he was able to confide in Erin all of his problems and his desire to kill himself - things he could not tell anyone else:

"She was a secret, so I could tell her my secrets." 

Lee said he and Erin would text each other several times an hour every day. He described his relationship with Erin as his make-believe life:

"She was my happy place."

Lee claimed the physical part of his relationship with Erin consisted only of kissing, and for only a couple of weeks.

The prosecution plans to play the rest of the video in court on Monday. Until then...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day Six - Morning Session

Wednesday was filled with twists and turns and technical glitches, so I'm going to break up today's update into two posts. This one is about what happened during the morning session of trial, before the lunch break.

The first witness this morning was Christi Bonar, a criminalist with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department who is assigned to the firearm unit. She testified that the bolt-action .22 caliber rifle - that either Nichole or Christopher Lee hid in Isabella "Isabel" Megli's bedroom at White Rock Horse Ranch - fired the spent cartridge casing discovered near the opening of the mine shaft where Erin Corwin's body was found.

The next witness was a Nevada resident named Deborah Valek who lived in Twentynine Palms in 2014. Her home was in the 2700 block of Ranch Road, where Erin Corwin's Toyota Corolla was abandoned. Valek said she first noticed the Corolla at around 8:30 the morning of June 28, 2014, the day Erin disappeared. She said she took note of it when she left with her daughter to get doughnuts. When Valek returned at around 9:15 a.m., the car was still there. Valek drove behind the Corolla and took pictures with her phone because, as she put it:
"It wasn't supposed to be there."
She said she kept her distance from the Corolla:
"I didn't get too close because I didn't know if anyone was inside."
Valek said the car remained in the same place for a couple of days.
"I was going to report it to the police, but I just didn't."
The final witness before the lunch break was the defendant's mother. Karen Lee was called by the prosecution to establish that her son and daughter-in-law were the primary drivers of the Chevy Suburban that was registered in Karen's name:
"Whenever they needed it, they drove it."
Important to remember all the evidence, like the homemade garrote, that was found in the Suburban by Detective Woods.

Karen Lee was shown a picture that law enforcement took inside her home of the People magazine issue that featured Erin and Jon Corwin, and Christopher Lee, on its cover. Mrs. Lee quickly said:
"My husband bought that piece of trash."
She explained she hid it in her bedroom:
"I didn't want Liberty to see it. I was appalled."
I will post what happened after the lunch break either later this evening or tomorrow morning.

Just a note: there is no court on Thursday because one of the jurors suffered a death in the family (this happened before the trial began) and she needed to be at the mortuary on Thursday. Friday is a dark day. Court resumes Monday morning.