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Man charged with murder, rape of young woman found dead in Kenosha park

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Man charged with murder, rape of young woman found dead in Kenosha park

By Matt Montgomery & WTMJ News Team. CREATED Jul 9, 2012 - UPDATED: Aug 2, 2012

KENOSHA - Authorities in Kenosha County have charged a 21-year-old man they believe to be responsible for the murder of 20-year-old Lashe Zalar.

Joshua Braithwaite, 21, faces charges of first degree intentional homicide, kidnapping and first degree sexual assault with a dangerous weapon in the case.

If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Zalar's body was found during a brush fire at Nedweski Park on July 9, and authorities at that time thought her death may have been suspicious -- as they asked for anyone that "observed any behavior" at the park that morning to come forward.

A criminal complaint says investigators found an open wound in her neck, a pool of blood and a knife handle when they found her body.

An autopsy determined that Zalar's death was related to the fire.

Defense attorneys Thursday quickly worked to throw out the charges.

"I'm not seeing anything in here that ties Mr. Braithwaite directly to the intentional homicide here," said attorney Mackenzie Renner.

Prosecutors disagree. They say Braithwaite admits to being in the park that day, and witnesses saw him running away.  They also say they have DNA evidence linking him to Zalar's body.

Braithwaite's DNA was on file in a national DNA databank because he had a previous felony conviction for escape from a juvenile correctional facility, according to the complaint and court records.

Zalar's family quietly left the courtroom, reports TODAY'S TMJ4's Cody Holyoke.

Prosecutors believe Zalar's death appears to have been a random act.

Braithwaite was ordered held on $1 million bail and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 16.