Trial in pregnant Marine's slaying to be moved
Posted December 8, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — A former Marine charged in the death of a pregnant comrade will be tried outside of Onslow County next summer.
Cpl. Cesar Laurean is charged with first-degree murder in the December 2007 death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach while they were stationed at Camp Lejeune. Her charred remains were found in a shallow grave behind the Jacksonville home Laurean shared with his wife and young daughter.
Defense attorney Dick McNeil sought to move the murder trial out of Onslow County, saying local anger over the case and extensive publicity would jeopardize Laurean's right to impartial jurors and a fair trial.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said he had no objection to moving the trial, noting that he wanted to ensure a fair trial.
"It was obvious to me that we would not prevail in keeping this case in Onslow County. So, rather then taking up valuable court time, we conceded that," Hudson said.
McNeil suggested holding the trial in New Bern, where he has an office, while Hudson offered Wilmington as an alternative. Although New Bern is in the same television market as Jacksonville, McNeil said he wasn't as concerned about the media coverage of the trial as he was getting away from an area where the case remains a daily topic of conversation among residents even after two years.
"No matter where we go east of (Interstate) 95, they're going to know about this case," McNeil said. "The question in my mind is, most importantly, how much do they discuss the case?"
Superior Court Judge Charles Henry gave both sides until Dec. 18 to state their cases for a particular location before he decides. A tentative trial date has been set for June 28, 2010, although that could change, depending on the court calendar of the county where the case is ultimately tried.
Hudson pushed to go to trial sooner, but McNeil said he would need at least that long to prepare his case.
"There is always harm – I mean witnesses die, we know that – and things happen, so that's the reason we obviously like to bring them to trial as quickly as we can. Witnesses forget things," he said.
The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.
Lauterbach, 20, told military authorities that Laurean raped her in April 2007. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her death. A DNA test showed that Laurean was not the father of her child.
Laurean fled the area hours before authorities found her body, leaving behind a note claiming that Lauterbach had killed herself and that he buried her in fear. Following an international manhunt, Laurean was arrested in Mexico in April 2008. He was extradited to North Carolina last spring, only after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against him.
In addition to murder, Laurean faces charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon, financial transaction card theft, attempted financial transaction card fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses. Those charges stem from the theft of Lauterbach's bank card, which was later used to withdraw money.