SOUTH BEND -- Witnesses said they saw Trina Winston dead; they told police that Tarrance Lee implied that he killed her; others said they helped dispose of the body -- but is that enough to charge him with murder?
According to Lee's attorney, Jeffrey Sanford, at most those allegations mean his client should be charged with the "failure to report" a dead body, or "moving a body," both misdemeanors -- making Lee eligible to be bailed out of jail.
On Monday, Sanford and Lee presented that argument to St. Joseph Superior Court Judge John Marnocha in a hearing that ultimately was about finding a way for Lee to be released from jail while awaiting trial.
In Indiana, people charged with murder are not offered the option to bail out, but Lee has sought that option by arguing he should not have been charged with his wife's death.
Lee has been accused of murdering Winston and then recruiting friends to help dispose of her body, most likely near Chicago.
With no body, Stanford said, it was impossible to know how Winston died and the state didn't provide evidence to indicate that she had been murdered.
Prosecutors, however, countered with other evidence -- including witness statements, testimony about Lee and Winston's troubled relationship, and even a Metro Homicide investigator's testimony about cell phone records locating Lee near Chicago on the night Winston disappeared.
Marnocha, after hearing both arguments, said the case was unusual in that the best case law he could point to in the matter dated back to the late 1800s -- but he ultimately agreed with the state's position and ruled that the charges were valid and Lee wasn't eligible to bond out of jail.
But Marnocha said Lee was able to appeal the bond, which Lee said he would do.
But since Lee has already asked for a speedy trial in the case, it's likely his trial -- scheduled for November -- will take place before an appeal can be heard.
Staff writer Dave Stephens: