Fugitive Marine Indicted on 5 Charges
Posted January 24, 2008 6:14 a.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2008 6:04 p.m. EST
Jacksonville, N.C. — An Onslow County grand jury on Thursday indicted a Camp Lejeune Marine on five charges in the slaying of a pregnant comrade.
District Attorney Dewey Hudson announced at a news conference the return of indictments against Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean for first-degree murder, financial card theft, attempted financial card fraud, fraud and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Laurean, 21, is wanted in the death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20. Her charred remains were found two weeks ago in a shallow grave behind Laurean's Onslow County house.
Hudson said he might seek more indictments against Laurean later.
Laurean has been the subject of a global manhunt since Jan. 11, when he disappeared after leaving a note for authorities claiming that Lauterbach had committed suicide and that he buried her in a panic.
An autopsy determined that Lauterbach died of blunt force trauma to the head. Investigators said they believe they have recovered the weapon used in the slaying, but they haven't disclosed what it is.
The indictments allege that Laurean used a blunt object to steal money and an ATM card from Lauterbach.
Authorities last week released a photo taken at an ATM in Jacksonville on Christmas Eve – about 10 days after Lauterbach was killed – that shows a man they believe to be Laurean using Lauterbach's card to withdraw money.
Hudson said he has reviewed FBI evidence that indicates that Laurean crossed the border into Mexico by bus within two days of fleeing the Jacksonville area.
Laurean was born in Mexico – he became a U.S. citizen and was living in the Las Vegas area before joining the Marines – and has relatives there.
"The FBI is investing a massive amount of man-hours following up every lead," said Capt. Rick Sutherland, of the Onslow County Sheriff's Office. "We're not focused on any one area."
Federal and local authorities also have been checking out credible tips that Laurean is in the U.S., Sutherland said.
"We're open to the fact that, if someone left this country willingly, they could certainly return willingly," he said. "In case that eventuality happens, we want to be prepared."
Hudson said he wanted to indict Laurean to bolster his extradition case with the Mexican authorities in case Laurean is captured in that country.
"I want to be extra careful. The last thing I want is some judge there denying my request because we don't have bills of indictment," he said.
Mexico has for decades resisted extraditing people to the U.S. who could face a capital case. Hudson said he has "reluctantly" agreed not to seek the death penalty against Laurean if he is apprehended in Mexico, but he said he would reserve the right to pursue a capital case against Laurean if he is captured elsewhere.
"The choices presented to me were either a possible ... life without parole sentence or the defendant living in Mexico for the rest of his life – a free man – and never being brought to trial for the death of Maria Lauterbach," he said. "I have not agreed to waive seeking the death penalty if he is arrested outside of the country of Mexico."
Lauterbach, who accused Laurean of rape last spring, was reported missing Dec. 19. She was about eight months pregnant at the time.
A second autopsy performed Tuesday in Dover, Del., determined that Lauterbach never delivered her baby before she was killed, Hudson said, so he was precluded by state law from seeking a second murder indictment in the case.
"In North Carolina, the killing of a viable, but unborn, child does not constitute murder," he said.
The second autopsy was part of an effort by military investigators to determine the paternity and the gender of Lauterbach's child, he said.