It is going to be a long protracted legal process as the wheels of justice for Erin Corwin continue to turn. This week movement on the case in Joshua Tree Superior Court in San Bernardino, California, came to a screeching halt with a legal delay that is not uncommon in high profile death penalty trials. The defense for Christopher Lee, accused of killing Erin Corwin with a special circumstance of lying in wait, pulled legal maneuvers that suggest this case is going to be a long one. Christopher Lee appeared in Joshua Tree Superior Court this week for what was supposed to be a pre-trial hearing. Instead, all criminal proceedings against Christopher Lee were suspended following a ruling on an affidavit of prejudice filed by the defense according to Z 107.7 News May 28.
According to minutes recorded on the case against Christopher Lee, an affidavit of prejudice was filed in Joshua Tree Superior Court in San Bernardino, California, on April 22. The affidavit of prejudice was filed by defense lawyer David Kaloyanides who is seeking a new judge in the case. This week all parties met in court for what was expected to be a pre-trial hearing.
Instead, all criminal proceedings against Christopher Lee were temporarily suspended following a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeals according to Z 107.7 News May 28. David Kaloyanides, defense lawyer for Christopher Lee, told Z 107.7 that the affidavit of prejudice was a peremptory challenge seeking a new judge.
The current judge on the case is Judge Rodney Cortez. Kaloyanides, who had previously hinted that he would be seeking a change of venue on this case, instead is seeking a new judge at this stage of the game. Kaloyanides is hoping that the only other judge in Joshua Superior Court that can take this case, Judge Bert Swift, will be the one to hear the Christopher Lee trial, where Lee is accused of the murder of Erin Corwin.
According to Z 107.7, Kaloyanides is claiming that this is a “strategic move used by lawyers all the time.” He says that he first made this filing in April shortly after Christopher Lee’s arraignment. In the State of California, an affidavit of prejudice must be filed within 10 days of an arraignment.
Kaloyanides first peremptory challenge in this regard was denied by Judge Cortez on the basis that the filing should have been made last year when Lee was first arraigned on August 26, 2014. Kaloyanides took this to the Court of Appeals. On May 8, 2015, the Court of Appeals ordered a stay on all criminal proceedings against Christopher Lee until a ruling on the matter could be formed.
That order was read by Judge Cortez in court this week. Criminal proceedings have been put on hold, or on a continuance, until June 30, Christopher Lee’s next court date. This is very painful and frustrating for the loved ones of the victim in this case, who have been grieving for almost a year and are very patiently waiting for justice for Erin Corwin.
On June 28, 2014, 19-year-old Erin Corwin said goodbye to her husband Jonathan Corwin for the last time. She told him she was going to check out some hiking trails for a future visit with her mother, and was never seen alive again. 7 weeks later, Erin’s body was recovered from a mine shaft in Joshua Tree National Park.
Testimony in a preliminary hearing against Christopher Lee, the man accused of putting Erin in that mine shaft, revealed that Erin had been found with a nylon garrote around her neck. She was also found with rebar in the mine shaft. The vehicle that was registered to Christopher Lee, was also found with nylon garrote in the vehicle that matched the garrote around Erin’s neck.
Rebar found in his vehicle also matched the rebar found in the remote mine with Erin. Additionally, many statements made by Christopher Lee and his wife Nichole Lee during the 7 week search for Erin Corwin have been deemed suspicious by law enforcement on this case. Nichole Lee for example made a statement to a friend Isabel Megli that the police “would never find the body.”
The biggest question for the loved ones of Erin is, how would Nichole Lee know this unless she was involved in the disappearance of Erin Corwin? We have been asking these same questions since we began covering this case last year.
Isabel Megli has since retracted her statements about Nichole with law enforcement. She has since alleged that Nichole made these statements in reference to some Law and Order episodes. During the 7 week search for Erin Corwin, Christopher Lee initially stayed with ranch owner Isabel Megli suggesting ties between Megli and the defendant and his wife Nichole, are strong.
Once search warrants were executed on the homes of the Corwins, the Lees, and also the ranch of Isabel Megli, things took a turn for the Lees. Instead of sticking around to find out what had happened to their “friend” Erin Corwin, they booked it to Alaska. Once Erin’s body was found, and evidence found with her matched evidence found in the Lees vehicle, Chris Lee was extradited from Alaska.
He is now in San Bernardino County Jail awaiting trial to face charges in the murder of Erin Corwin. Thus far, there are no charges pending against his wife Nichole Lee. But that does not negate the suspicion in the minds of the loved ones of Erin Corwin who believe she either had direct involvement with Erin’s murder, or at least knew about it. If she did, that would mean she might be guilty of obstruction of justice, at the very least. If she had involvement, she might be guilty of much more. We do know that as of the end of 2014, Nichole and Isabel Megli were still in contact with each other, and that Isabel still supports the Lees on this case.
Does Nichole Lee know exactly what happened on the day that Erin Corwin was killed? This is a big question for the family and loved ones of the victim. They want to see Christopher Lee brought to justice, but they also want all parties responsible to as well. Whether that will happen with Nichole remains to be seen.
It is interesting to note that Nichole previously made claims that law enforcement would “never find the body.” How would she know that? And, what specific Law and Order episode was she referring to if that is indeed the case?
She didn’t say. But since it took 7 weeks, 5,000 man hours, and a search of 300 square miles of desert to find Erin, it is peculiar that Nichole would know finding…a body…would be difficult for law enforcement.
Z 107.7 News reported on Aug. 19 last year the science that was involved in recovering Erin Corwin from the mine shaft where her body was recovered. Sheriff John McMahon told Z 107.7,
“More than 100 mine shafts were identified and numerous bodies of water were located and searched. On Saturday August 16, the search concluded with the discovery of Erin Corwin’s body in a 140-foot mine shaft.”
Z 107.7 reports that they spoke with lead homicide detectives on the case as to how Erin was recovered. Sergeant Travis Newport told Z 107.7 that forensics, computers, and information obtained from cell phones and “other electronic devices” were used. He said,
“We did forensics examinations of some computer technology, some cell phones, and many other electronic devices, and through those forensic exams we were able to determine a potential location for Erin Corwin’s body.”
Sergeant Newport also discussed the remoteness of the area. He said it would be difficult for the average person to navigate, and even difficult for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate. He said there were hundreds of mine pits, and finding Erin took some time, and two days of work.
“One of our mining teams sent a camera down into a particular shaft, approximately 140 feet down, and we were able to locate Erin – what we believed at the time was a female corpse. Due to the air quality, we were unable to extract the remains from the bottom of the mine shaft on that day.”
Rescue operations for Erin took place the next day, a Sunday. It took approximately two hours and “two entries.” The first entry was to collect evidence that was with Erin and in the shaft. The second was to then, “extract the body of Ms. Corwin.”
Within three hours of Erin’s recovery, dental records were used to confirm the identity of the individual recovered. That was August 17, 2014 in Joshua Tree National Park. By August 26, 2014, Christopher Lee would appear before Judge Cortez in Joshua Tree Superior Court for his arraignment. He pled not guilty to all charges, including the charge of the special circumstance “lying in wait” which, if he is found guilty, could make him eligible for the death penalty.
After Erin was recovered from the mine shaft, an autopsy was performed. Although Erin was found with a garrote around her neck, the autopsy was performed to determine whether or not she was pregnant at the time of her murder. The State believes that Erin and Christopher Lee were having an affair, or had been involved in one in the months before her murder.
The State also believes, as do many people that knew and loved Erin, that she was pregnant at the time of her death. The autopsy was performed to make that determination. Unfortunately, after 7 weeks in a mine shaft underground, Erin’s body was too decomposed to make a determination either way as to whether or not Erin was pregnant at the time of her death.
But, ask anyone that knows her, and they will say she was. They will say that she was planning to go on a special hiking trip with Christopher Lee on the day that she disappeared. He was reportedly planning a special surprise, at least that is what Erin believed when she texted her friend on the morning of her disappearance.
Erin even believed that the morning she left to go on a special hike with Chris Lee, that she was going to receive a marriage proposal. That is according to testimony that came up at a preliminary hearing in this case last month. She also believed she was pregnant with his child.
Despite the fact that this has not been confirmed medically, it is likely that more text evidence will come to light at trial to confirm this is indeed what Erin believed about her life on the day that she disappeared. No matter who the judge is on this case, that will not change. And these are all things that the jury will hear when the time comes.
The jury will hear that a naïve 19-year-old girl was excited to see Chris Lee on the day that she disappeared from the lives of the people she loves forever. They will hear how sweet and excited she was, and how she was thrilled at the possibility of a new life. They will hear how the State believes, Chris Lee lay in wait, preying on this naiveté, until he snuffed her out.
Defense attorney David Kaloyanides seems to think that finding a new judge on this case is going to make a difference in that regard. Will it? The jury will still hear those facts about Erin’s last thoughts and moments, and it will be the jury that decides Lee’s fate.
But there is one question that so many are asking in the wake of suspended criminal proceedings against the man accused of hurting Erin Corwin. That question is, why would the defense make this move?
David Kaloyanides, Lee’s lead attorney, is simply vigorously pursuing all avenues possible in order to ensure a fair trial for his client. For State side supporters, it is a tactic commonly known as “delaying the inevitable.” But this is just another day for Kaloyanides.
We have learned he is certainly no stranger to high profile cases, and no stranger to aggressively pursuing fairness for his clients. Any Guns N’ Roses fans may be wondering why Kaloyanides name sounds so familiar. He was also the lead attorney on the 2008 Guns N’ Roses copyright infringement case reports Digital Spy.
In that case, a blogger leaked a total of 9 tracks from a Guns N’ Roses album known as “Chinese Democracy.” Kaloyanides represented the blogger, who ultimately ended up with one year probation. The blogger, Kevin Cogill, was also ordered 2 months home arrest, and was required to record a PSA on copyright infringement.
That client also was required to “have his computers subjected to government scrutiny” according to Digital Spy. That blogger also took to his blog about his experiences with Kaloyanides, and the case in general. He says that “David made me feel invincible” and was determined to help him win from day one. On that case, Kaloyanides told the Associated Press,
“It doesn’t help to educate the public of the importance of respecting copyright law when you become too heavy handed with punishment.”
The entire blogger’s account of that case can be found here, where the blogger details a day by day experience with his lawyer, Kaloyanides, who made him feel invincible. In this case, Kaloyanides was successful in helping his client avoid jail time. But will he be successful in avoiding a conviction for Lee?
Copyright infringement and first degree murder with lying in wait are two different things. Two very different things.
The San Diego Reader reported earlier this week that a possible reasoning behind Kaloyanides most recent move on the Corwin case, stems from his experiences with the alternate judge Bert Swift. It sounds like, according to some experiences, Judge Cortez may be a little more hard nosed on matters such as evidence sealing, defense objections, and the like, than his colleague Bert Swift. So this could be the reason for a request of judge switches.
We have also been told that Kaloyanides is currently appearing before Judge Swift on another matter. Perhaps he feels his rapport in that case could carry over to the case against Christopher Lee. But, if there are only two judges available to hear this case, it is likely the State has a very good rapport with both judges as well.
In any event, Kaloyanides feels that a judge switch is going to make a big change to the case. He told the San Diego Reader,
“I think there will be some differences. Without going into detail, I think this will completely change the makeup of the case, procedurally.”
Kaloyanides also reportedly spoke about the death penalty procedures on this case. This may be the set of procedures he is referring to that may change if a new judge is assigned to the case. The State however is fighting this change vigorously.
“Two volumes” of rebuttal were filed with the San Bernardino DA’s office in response to the affidavit of prejudice. After Judge Cortez read the Court of Appeals ruling in court this past Tuesday May 26, the Deputy District Attorney’s office filed nine more motions with the courts rebutting this matter, and others. The Deputy DA has asked for more time, and has also petitioned the court for a rehearing on the matter of the judge reassignment.
Christopher Lee is scheduled to appear before Judge Cortez on June 30. He has pled not guilty to all charges against him, which include felony murder and the special circumstance of lying in wait.
Watch the ride along interview here with miner Tom Koch at the Rose of Peru mine where Erin Corwin was recovered. Tom discusses the rough terrain, the “nasty” driving conditions, and more about the disappearance of Erin Corwin. Do you think the defense will be successful in getting a new judge, or, in avoiding the death penalty in this case?