Fugitive ex-Marine charged in girlfriend's murder ordered held without bail

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A former Marine arrested in El Salvador earlier this week for the 2016 murder of his girlfriend was ordered held without bail during an arraignment hearing in California on Friday.

Raymond McLeod was taken into custody on Monday following a yearslong manhunt. He was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, 30-year-old Krystal Mitchell, who was found strangled to death at a friend's apartment in San Diego on June 10, 2016.

"This week, this defendant's brazen attempt to evade justice was over," San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said during a press briefing following the arraignment. "The work to hold him accountable has begun."

PHOTO: Raymond McLeod in an undated photo released by the San Diego County District Attorney. (San Diego County District Attorney)
PHOTO: Raymond McLeod in an undated photo released by the San Diego County District Attorney. (San Diego County District Attorney)

McLeod, 37, pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder during his arraignment hearing, San Diego ABC affiliate KGTV reported. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 26, 2023. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted, the district attorney said.

Mitchell's mother, Josephine Funes Wentzel, a former police detective, was instrumental in the search for McLeod by helping generate leads and spreading the word about the manhunt on social media, the district attorney's office said.

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"He's not going to get away again. He's never going to be released from that jail if I could have something to do with that," Wentzel, who was in the courtroom Friday, told reporters after the arraignment hearing. "I will be satisfied when he is convicted for brutally murdering my daughter, and that he is sentenced to life in prison."

The couple, from Phoenix, was in San Diego to visit friends when Mitchell was killed. McLeod was seen assaulting Mitchell in the hours before she was found dead from a "violent" strangulation, Stephan said. McLeod, the last person with whom Mitchell was seen alive, then fled to Mexico, Stephan said.

PHOTO: Raymond McLeod was taken into custody by El Salvadorian law enforcement officials on Aug. 29, 2022. (U.S. Marshals)
PHOTO: Raymond McLeod was taken into custody by El Salvadorian law enforcement officials on Aug. 29, 2022. (U.S. Marshals)

McLeod was believed to have also been in Belize, Guatemala and, for the past two-and-a-half years, El Salvador, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Joseph O'Callahan told reporters during Friday's briefing.

"He really laid low," O'Callahan said, noting the former Marine may have relied on training in "clandestine operations."

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Then, on Aug. 20, the U.S. Marshals Service received a promising tip that someone resembling McLeod may be working as an English instructor at a school in Sonsonate, El Salvador, O'Callahan said.

A week later, U.S. Marshals traveled to El Salvador and "determined the individual inside the school was, in fact, Mr. McLeod, going by the name of Jack Donovan," he said.

PHOTO: The U.S. Marshals Most Wanted poster showing Raymond McLeod has been apprehended. (U.S. Marshals)
PHOTO: The U.S. Marshals Most Wanted poster showing Raymond McLeod has been apprehended. (U.S. Marshals)

McLeod, previously described by the U.S. Marshals as an "avid bodybuilder," is believed to have taken the name of a bodybuilder in Canada who resembled him and "was able to run with that identity," O'Callahan said.

El Salvadorian law enforcement officials took McLeod into custody on Monday and he was deported back to the U.S. the following day.

McLeod was added to the U.S. Marshals' 15 Most Wanted List in 2021 and a reward of up to $50,000 was being offered for information leading to his capture. O'Callahan said the U.S. Marshals plan to pay the reward but did not share further details.

Fugitive ex-Marine charged in girlfriend's murder ordered held without bail originally appeared on abcnews.go.com