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Man charged with murder in killing of U.S. Marine's pregnant wife

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Southern California filed murder charges on Tuesday against a man suspected of killing a U.S. Marine's pregnant wife and dumping the 19-year-old woman's body down a mine shaft, authorities said.

Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, a former neighbor of the couple, was arrested during a traffic stop in Anchorage, Alaska, on Sunday and was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday afternoon for extradition proceedings to return him to California.

Erin Corwin was reported missing on June 28 by her husband, Marine Corporal Jonathan Corwin, after she failed to return from what she told him was a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, near their home on the military base in Twentynine Palms, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.

Law enforcement officials said her body was found on Sunday evening in a mine shaft less than 2 miles from Twentynine Palms, and was positively identified by dental records.

Officials from the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office said on Tuesday they had also filed the special circumstance allegation of "lying in wait," increasing the potential penalty to death or life without parole.

"The decision regarding which penalty will be sought will be made after a full review of the facts and evidence in the case," District Attorney Michael Ramos said in a statement, describing it as a "terrible crime."

Corwin was three months' pregnant at the time she vanished, according to investigators.

If Lee waives extradition, he can be returned to California immediately, the prosecutor's office said. If he fights extradition, it may take four to six weeks.

An attorney for Lee could not be reached for comment.

The Desert Sun newspaper published a search warrant affidavit in July that showed detectives questioned Lee and his wife, Nicole, each more than once during the investigation.

The affidavit said detectives believed Lee and Erin Corwin were having an affair when she disappeared, and that Lee could be the father of her unborn baby. According to the affidavit, Lee denied any involvement in Corwin's disappearance.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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