By CBSLA Staff

ORANGE (CBSLA) – A 68-year-old Marine veteran who was arrested last year for the 1976 cold case slaying of a woman near Irvine has become the first Orange County Jail inmate to die of the coronavirus.

Eddie Lee Anderson was arrested May 24, 2019, at his home in suburban New Orleans on suspicion of murder in the 1976 killing of 30-year-old Leslie Penrod Harris in Orange County, California. Anderson died of the coronavirus on Dec. 18, 2020. (Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

Eddie Lee Anderson passed away Friday morning at a local hospital of medical complications after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

He contracted COVID-19 while in custody at the Theo Lacy maximum security jail in the city of Orange. He had been hospitalized since Dec. 13.

Anderson is the first O.C. inmate to die of medical complications associated with COVID-19.

Since March, at least 1,260 inmates in the O.C. Jail system have tested positive for the coronavirus, the sheriff’s department said.

The news of the death comes exactly one week after an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered O.C. Sheriff Don Barnes to reduce jail populations by 50% in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The controversial order was met with criticism from both sheriff’s officials and prosecutors.

A judge’s ruling to reduce the inmate population in the Orange County jail system by half will release dangerous and violent criminals back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes and victimize more people,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement.

Anderson was arrested in May of 2019 at his home in suburban New Orleans on suspicion of murder in the 1976 killing of 30-year-old Leslie Penrod Harris.

On the night of May 17, 1976, Harris was having dinner with her husband at a Costa Mesa restaurant when she left alone and never returned.

Early the following morning, her body was found on a road near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. She had been strangled to death.

Sheriff’s investigators believed that due to where the body was found, her suspect was likely linked to the military somehow. However, detectives were unable to find a suspect and the case went cold for more than four decades.

Last year, using genealogical DNA evidence, investigators were able to identify Anderson as the murder suspect. Detectives learned that Anderson was enlisted at MCAS El Toro in the early 1970s and, on the night of her murder, he lived less than a mile from the restaurant where Harris was last seen.