Courtroom gavel
A courtroom gavel. File photo

 An ex-Marine accused of murdering his girlfriend in Allied Gardens more than six years ago, then fleeing the country, pleaded not guilty Friday to a murder charge.

Raymond Samuel McLeod Jr, 37, was arrested Monday afternoon in El Salvador in connection with the 2016 killing of 30-year-old Krystal Mitchell.

McLeod and Mitchell, who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, at the time, traveled to San Diego to visit with a friend of McLeod’s from his days in the U.S. Marine Corps.

On June 10, 2016, Mitchell was found dead at the friend’s Mission Gorge Road residence.

A declaration in support of an arrest warrant states that Mitchell was strangled and blood stains were found in various locations of the bedroom where her body was located, as well as a bathroom and an elevator at the apartment complex. Mitchell’s injuries included three fractures to her voice box, bruising on her arms and legs, and facial contusions.

The document states that on the night of her death, the couple went to a local bar, where McLeod got into a fight with another patron who attempted to intervene when McLeod slapped Mitchell.

About an hour later, the pair were spotted on surveillance footage from the Mission Gorge apartment complex, where the document states McLeod can be seen grabbing Mitchell by the throat and pulling her into an elevator.

Authorities allege McLeod fled the country and spent the next six-plus years in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador.

Joseph O’Callaghan, chief deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service, said a recent tip submitted to the Marshals Service website indicated someone resembling McLeod was teaching English at a school in Sonsonate. O’Callaghan said further investigation indicated he was teaching at the school under the name of Jack Donovan, and may have spent as long as the last three years in El Salvador.

While on the run, McLeod was on the U.S. Marshals’ 15 Most Wanted List, and was described by authorities as having a history of domestic violence.

The arrest warrant declaration describes two incidents of alleged domestic violence regarding two of McLeod’s ex-wives. One such incident involved McLeod allegedly pushing one ex-wife while she was holding their infant son. That woman told police McLeod is known to “snap.” She also told investigators that McLeod called her on June 10 and told her he was not coming back to Arizona for his son’s birthday.

Another ex-wife was allegedly choked by McLeod while she was sleeping, according to the declaration, which stated he would not let go until a friend physically removed McLeod.

That second incident allegedly occurred in Riverside County, where court records indicate someone with the name Raymond Samuel McLeod Jr. was charged in March 2016 with felony domestic violence and pleaded not guilty. A bench warrant was issued for the defendant’s arrest in July of that year.

Mitchell’s mother, Josephine Funes Wentzel, was credited by authorities for her dogged pursuit of the case.

Wentzel, a former police detective, said she scoured the internet and made countless phone calls to law enforcement officials over the course of “six hard years.”

Her message to the loved ones of murder victims was “Never give up.”

McLeod, who was ordered to remain in custody without bail following his arraignment, faces 25 years to life in state prison if convicted.

–City News Service