The King County Medical Examiner has officially identified the remains found Saturday in a Seattle recycling bin to be those of murdered Renton mother of three, Ingrid Lyne. But the location of the rest of her body remains a mystery.
While police were confident based on a visual identification of the three bags worth of body parts they found, the Medical Examiner had to make a legal identification with DNA and dental records. The medical examiner also ruled her death formally a murder caused by homicidal violence. The King County Prosecutor’s Office officially charged John Charlton, 37, Wednesday with murder in the first degree and theft of a motor vehicle.
The medical examiner’s details are a big piece of the puzzle as prosecutors continue their case against Charlton, according to defense attorney and KIRO legal expert Anne Bremner. Bremner says there are still many questions to be answered, such as when and how Lyne died, and where the rest of her body is. Some of her remains were found in a recycling bin in Seattle’s Central District.
“We’ve seen cases, of course, where there’s no body,” said Bremner, a former criminal prosecutor for King County. “And so you don’t have a cause of death. And those are filed … I shouldn’t say routinely, but they’re not uncommon – those kinds of charging decisions in homicide cases.”
Bremner said this case stands out because of the tight timeline: Charlton was arrested Monday morning, just a day and a half after the remains were discovered, and authorities only have a 72-hour window to charge him or let him go. At his first appearance in court Tuesday, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Worley had to swear herself in to introduce new evidence – blood found in Lyne’s home and car, which was recovered Monday night – for the judge to consider in her determination of probable cause in order to continue holding him in jail.
Given the rush to put together their arguments, Bremner believes prosecutors have a strong case.
“We know she was killed in her house, we know that there’s evidence in the bathtub, we know there’s a potential murder weapon there at the house,” Bremner said. “We know that she was somehow transported in bags that look to be virtually identical to the empty bag container in her house.”
Public Defender Gordon Hill argued the evidence is circumstantial because, although police say Charlton admitted being with Lyne Friday night, there’s no forensic evidence linking Charlton to the killing or to the area where the remains were found.
But Bremner says that can be enough for a judge.
“Circumstantial evidence is as valid as direct evidence in a criminal case,” Bremner said. “Often you hear people say ‘oh, it’s only circumstantial.’ But it’s valid, powerful evidence. In fact, it can be more powerful than an eyewitness because evidence doesn’t lie. It can’t be mistaken like a witness.”
According to charging documents, investigators removed the plumbing beneath Lyne’s bathtub and found blood and flesh. They also found a 15-inch wood saw. Charlton also told detectives that he is homeless, had a drinking problem and was “not a normal person.”
If the case goes forward, Bremner expects more information will come to light, like toxicology screening information for Charlton and Lyne, as well as information from the autopsy. And, Bremner anticipates Charlton’s family members will testify on his behalf to try to reduce bail, which will shed more light on Charlton’s past and mental state.
Meanwhile, detectives are still working to find the rest of Lyne’s remains, while also working with other agencies to see if Charlton is connected to any other similar crimes.
MyNorthwest’s Eric Mandel contributed to this story.