Man charged in murder of Lashe Zalar at Kenosha park

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KENOSHA — 21-year-old Joshua Braithwaite faces three felony counts in connection with the death of 20-year-old Lashe Zalar. Those charges include first degree intentional homicide, first degree sexual assault and kidnapping. 

Zalar's body was found at Kenosha's Nedweski Park after firefighters put out a grass fire there on July 9, 2012.

The criminal complaint against Braithwaite indicates Zalar's body was found "nude except for a garment bundled up around her neck and a pair of burned shoes on her feet." Investigators say she had been sexually assaulted. Her neck was bruised and her throat was slashed. An autopsy showed Zalar died in a fire set on her body with a flammable liquid. 

Lashe Zalar

Lashe Zalar

The criminal complaint says Braithwaite was seen at Nedweski park by two separate witnesses on July 9th.

His DNA was on record from a past offense -- and he had just gotten out of prison for felony escape in February 2012.

The complaint says Braithwaite admitted to investigators that he exchanged multiple "text messages with a girl named Lashe." He also admitted to having consensual sex with her the night before Zalar's body was found. But Zalar's friends say she spent the entire night with them.

Braithwaite's uncle says he believes he didn't do the crime he's now accused of committing.

"He's a good guy and he's a godly person and I know from him he would never do anything like that, you know what i'm saying, because he's not like that period," said Nelson Booker.

According to the criminal complaint, Zalar would walk to Nedweski Park daily. The prosecutor says Zalar appeared to be a random victim.

"This is what puts panic and fear in all citizens in the community that any person could have been a victim in this circumstance and a young female in this instance," said prosecutor Robert Zapf. "Our parks are supposed to be safe and unfortunately on this day in that this is a place she would go to for rest and recreation and it was violated in a number of ways by this defendant."

Braithwaite's bail was set at $1 million cash. He's due back in court on August 16th. If convicted of the charges, Braithwaite faces up to life in prison.

Monitor FOX6 News and for updates on this developing story.