Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the first-degree murder conviction of Cesar Laurean, who killed a pregnant comrade in December 2007.
Laurean's attorneys argued last November that the trial judge should have allowed the jury to consider a second-degree murder charge. They also accused of the judge of limiting the evidence the jury could consider.
A jury found Laurean guilty in 2010 of first-degree murder in the death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, who was nearly 8 months pregnant. 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 said evidence suggested that Laurean hit Lauterbach once with a crowbar during an argument at his home and that he did not mean 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 at the November appeal hearing.
Assistant Attorney General Norma Harrell said the way Laurean disposed of Lauterbach's body was enough to demonstrate premeditation and support a first-degree murder conviction.
Petersen said the judge also should have allowed jurors to hear evidence about Lauterbach's behavior. 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.