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Attorney: Trial judge erred in case of pregnant Marine's murder

Posted November 16, 2011

— A defense attorney argued Wednesday that a trial judge was wrong last year in limiting the evidence a jury could consider before convicting a former Camp Lejeune Marine of murdering a pregnant comrade.

A jury found Cesar Laurean guilty last year of first-degree murder in the December 2007 death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. He is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The case attracted national attention after Laurean fled Jacksonville hours before Lauterbach's burned body was found buried in his backyard in January 2008. He was arrested three months later in a small town in western Mexico.

Defense Attorney Ann Petersen argued before the North Carolina Court of Appeals that the jury should have been allowed to consider a second-degree murder charge in Laurean's case. Evidence suggests that he hit Lauterbach once with a crowbar during an argument at his home, not that he meant to kill her.

"After he realized she was dead, he then panicked, buried the body and later took off to Texas, and that is totally consistent with second-degree murder but not premeditation and deliberation," Petersen said.

Assistant Attorney General Norma Harrell said the way Laurean disposed of Lauterbach's body is enough to demonstrate premeditation and support a first-degree murder conviction.

Maria Lauterbach, Cesar Laurean Court hears ex-Marine's appeal of murder conviction

"The reason there is no evidence of more than one blow – it's not clear that there was only one blow – it's because the body was in such a state because of being burned as well as being left there so long," Harrell said.

Petersen said the judge also should have allowed jurors to hear evidence about Lauterbach's behavior.

Lauterbach, 20, was nearly eight months pregnant at the time of her death. She had accused Laurean, who was one of her supervisors at Camp Lejeune, of raping her in the spring of 2007, but she later recanted the allegation.

Lauterbach's mother, Mary Lauterbach, traveled from her Ohio home to watch the arguments in the appeal. Thursday would have her daughter's 24th birthday, she said.

"We will always have a hole in our life. It will never go away," said Mary Lauterbach, who wiped away tears as she listened to the case.

"It's always difficult to hear these details again of violence against my daughter. That will never be easy," she said.

The three-judge appellate panel likely won't issue a ruling for several weeks.


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  • Lead by Example Nov 18, 2011


    In cases where a motor vehicle is used to INTENTIONALLY hit another person (and the person dies) the charge is First Degree Murder. There are other homicide offenses that cover vehicle crashes that were "accidental" and caused someone's death, which fall under Chapter 20 statutes; two of which are felony death by vehicle and misdemeanor death by vehicle.

    In certain cases 2nd degree murder applies if an accidental vehicle crash results in a fatality, or even the lesser offenses of manslaughter. The key point is INTENTIONAL commission of a felony via a deadly weapon.

  • kermit60 Nov 17, 2011

    Lead by example. If what you say is true, then anyone who hits another with a motor vehicle resulting in death is guilty of 1st degree murder. Hitting them could be considered felony assault. The car could easily be considered a deadly weapon and it has in maney cases. Following this logic anyone causing a motor vehicle accident could be charged with first degree murder. Obviously this doesn't happen. Because the intent of the person is taken into consideration. Very little in our legal system is absolute.

  • Lead by Example Nov 17, 2011

    In this case proving "premeditation" isn't even needed, see G.S. 14-17. The defendant used a deadly weapon to commit a felony (aggravated assault), that resulted in the death of another.

  • Lead by Example Nov 17, 2011

    "A murder which shall be perpetrated by any arson, rape or a sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, or other felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon shall be deemed to be murder in the first degree."

    N.C. General Statute 14-17.

  • Lead by Example Nov 17, 2011

    This argument should be thrown out. Anytime a suspect commits a felony with a deadly weapon (in this case the crime of aggravated assault) and the victim dies it is automatically First Degree Murder. Hence in this case the State didn't even need to prove premeditation.

  • michaelclay Nov 17, 2011

    How can a physically fit male Marine hit anyone in the head with a crowbar and not mean to kill them!!!?

  • sillywabbitthepatriot Nov 17, 2011

    He burned her body to the point that the baby she was carrying was exposed beneath the flesh. He even had a barbeque in the same pit afterwards knowing their bodies were benath the surface.

    What he derserved was death. This lawyer needs a swift kick where the sun doesn't shine.

  • Wendellcatlover Nov 17, 2011

    Forget the agreement with Mexico to not go after the death penalty, that is EXACTLY what he deserves.

  • Iconoclast Nov 17, 2011

    Okay, let him get a new trial with second degree murder on the table...but the death penalty has to be put back on the table too.

  • Scaramouche Nov 17, 2011

    I'm sorry, but if you hit someone with a crowbar your intent is to kill them.