Attorney: Trial judge erred in case of pregnant Marine's murder
Posted November 16, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
"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.