Laurean convicted in pregnant Marine's death
Posted August 23, 2010
GOLDSBORO, N.C. — A former Camp Lejeune Marine was found guilty Monday of killing a pregnant comrade in December 2007 and burying her remains in a fire pit in his backyard.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before finding Cesar Laurean guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Blanca Laurean, one of Laurean's sisters, who attended every day of the two-week trial, remained convinced of his innocence even after he was led off to Central Prison in Raleigh.
"My brother didn't do it," she said. "I'm always going to stay by him because he's always been a good man."
Lauterbach, 20, was nearly eight months pregnant at the time of her death. She had accused Laurean, who was one of her supervisors, of raping her in the spring of 2007, but later recanted the allegation. Although military investigators couldn't corroborate her claims, they continued to look into the case until her death.
DNA tests conducted after Laurean's April 2008 arrest confirmed that he wasn't the father of Lauterbach's child.
Mary Lauterbach said she plans to use her daughter's death to push the military to provide greater protections to members of the armed services who are victims of sexual assault.
"I truly believe that Maria was the perfect victim," Mary Lauterbach said after the verdict was announced. "Because of her credibility problems, our pleas for help (following her disappearance) were rejected or discounted by everyone."
After being dismissed by the Marines and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, she said, she turned to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office for help. Only then did investigators solve her daughter's disappearance, she said.
Laurean fled Jacksonville hours before Lauterbach's body was found in January 2008 and was arrested three months later in a small town in western Mexico. When he fled, he left behind a note in which he claimed Lauterbach had committed suicide and that he had buried her out of fear.
In his closing argument Monday morning, Onslow County Chief Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee said Laurean needed to kill Lauterbach to salvage his military career. After initially hatching a plan to have her go AWOL and send her to Mexico so she would be discredited within the Marines, Lee said, Laurean decided he couldn't risk her returning to North Carolina.
So, he lured her to his home to look at baby clothes and other items and then hit her on the head with a crowbar, Lee said.
"I can get rid of my problem," Lee said by way of explaining Laurean's thinking.
A pathologist testified during the two-week trial that Lauterbach was killed by a blow to the head, and two forensics experts said that her blood was found throughout Laurean's garage and on a crowbar that he gave to a Marine buddy two days after Lauterbach was last seen alive.
After Lauterbach's death, Lee said, Laurean concocted "a facade of trying to keep her alive" by moving her car around Jacksonville and trying to use her bank card. He also built the fire pit in his backyard and had a bonfire during the holidays to cover up the evidence of Lauterbach's death, Lee said.
Jurors also convicted Laurean of financial transaction card theft and attempted financial transaction card fraud for trying to use her bank card. They acquitted him on a related charge of robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Defense focused on victim's state of mind
Defense attorney Dick McNeil elicited testimony throughout the trial that Lauterbach was known in the Marines as a liar and that she had a history of mental illness in her family.
McNeil sought to convince jurors that there was no premeditation in her death, but Smith ruled much of the evidence about Lauterbach's truthfulness wasn't admissible as evidence. He also ruled that jurors couldn't consider a charge of second-degree murder against Laurean.
During his closing argument Monday, McNeil again questioned her state of mind when she went to Laurean's house, noting that she had been arguing for months with her mother about whether to keep her baby or give it up for adoption.
"She was a troubled, depressed, distraught young lady," he said. "What was her plan and mission? What was she trying to gain?"
McNeil also suggested that Laurean's wife, Marine Lance Cpl. Christina Laurean, might have confronted Lauterbach at the house and killed her.
Forensics experts said Christina Laurean's DNA was found on the handle of the crowbar, but Cesar Laurean's DNA wasn't.
Neither Christina Laurean nor Cesar Laurean testified during the trial.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson scoffed at McNeil's argument, suggesting that maybe Cesar Laurean's parents or his two sisters, who have attended every day of the trial, killed Lauterbach because they had as much to gain as his wife from Lauterbach's death.
Hudson called Cesar Laurean a coward who deserted his family and the Marines. He said authorities had investigated Christina Laurean and found no reason to charge her with any crime.
"This case has had more twists and turns than a roller coaster at the state fair," Hudson said after the trial.