JOSHUA TREE — The body of Jean Leppan was found buried in a shallow grave 22 miles east of downtown Twentynine Palms on May 12, 2004. Now, 15 years later, her ex-husband, Charles Leppan, has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.
Leppan, 46, appeared in the Joshua Tree Superior Courthouse Friday for a trial readiness hearing. Charged with murder, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charges in a bargain with the prosecution.
Leppan was arrested at his house in Clarkston, Michigan, on Oct. 13., 2013, after investigators said they had new evidence linking him to the death of his ex-wife. He was brought to California, where he has remained in custody for the past six years on $1 million bail. He will be sentenced July 19.
Jean Leppan was last seen alive in January 2004, when she and Charles Leppan, then a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, were sharing a house in Yucca Valley and trying to reconcile their marriage.
Leppan never reported her missing, and he remarried two weeks after she disappeared, investigators said.
Leppan was brought in for questioning after his wife’s body was discovered, but was released about a week later when the district attorney’s office decided not to file charges against him.
“We did not want to go forward with the case at its present stage of investigation,” Linda Root, the prosecutor supervising the Joshua Tree district attorney’s office, told the Hi-Desert Star at the time.
Leppan was initially charged with murder but his plea bargain decreased the charge to voluntary manslaughter, which is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
The maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 11 years. He may also face an additional eight years for two counts of assault; the maximum sentence for this charge is four years.