Local News

Man charged with stealing DA's files in slain Marine case

Posted August 15, 2008 11:38 a.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2008 10:58 p.m. EDT

— A former intern in the Onslow County District Attorney's Office was charged Friday with taking investigative documents in the case of a slain pregnant Marine.

Robert Paul Sharpe, 33, of 147 Harris Creek Road in Jacksonville, was charged with one count each of embezzlement and misdemeanor larceny and was released on an unsecured $10,000 bond.

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said one of his investigators recently saw comments on a local blog in which someone claimed to have access to the investigative file in the pending murder case against Cpl. Cesar Laurean. He is charged with killing Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, a comrade at Camp Lejeune, in December.

Brown had a deputy pose as a reporter for Newsweek and go to a reporter for the Jacksonville Daily News on Wednesday to ask for information about the case for a story in the magazine. The reporter put the undercover deputy in contact with a confidential source, who agreed to provide Newsweek with information, he said.

Investigators then staked out the Onslow County District Attorney's Office for several hours and stopped Sharpe as he left the office at 2 a.m. Thursday with several file folders and compact disks, Brown said.

Sharpe, a former Marine, is a University of North Carolina-Wilmington student who worked as an intern in Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson's office. He left the job Thursday.

Hudson said his office made two copies of about 60,000 pages and more than 30 CDs of evidence and other information collected in the case. Prosecutors kept one copy and provided the other to Laurean's defense attorneys, he said.

Sharpe's job was to copy papers, and he was not authorized to remove any paperwork, officials said.

The original case file has remained with Brown's investigators.

"None of the documents of this office have been compromised," Hudson said, adding that he will now lock up the Laurean case file and other investigative files in high-profile cases in his office to restrict access to them.

"I never dreamed (something like this) would occur," he said. "It's embarrassing to me, and it's embarrassing to the judicial system."

There was no evidence any news agency misappropriated any documents in the case file, he said.

Sharpe requested money for the files from the undercover deputy, Brown said. He declined to say how much was requested, except to say, "It's more than you could buy a steak for."

Sharpe's home and car were searched, and investigators seized his laptop, Hudson said.

"He had no authority to read the file or investigate the file or talk to any reporter," he said.

College students and law school students have worked as interns in the Onslow County District Attorney's Office for about 20 years, he said. The internships provide the students with experience and provide his prosecutors with needed assistance, he said.

Lauterbach's burned remains were found in a shallow grave behind Laurean's Jacksonville home in January. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.

Lauterbach had accused Laurean of raping her a year ago. Military authorities could never corroborate her allegations, but they planned to pursue hearings that could have led to charges against Laurean.

Laurean fled Jacksonville hours before Lauterbach's body was found, leaving behind a note in which he claimed she had committed suicide and that he had buried her out of fear.

An autopsy determined that Lauterbach had been beaten to death, and authorities said they found traces of blood inside Laurean's home.

Laurean was arrested in April in western Mexico after an international manhunt. He is awaiting extradition to the U.S.

Hudson said it was unclear how the alleged document theft would affect the case against Laurean, but the most potent danger to the case was one of perception.

"There's still a lot of information, a lot of evidence in the case that hasn't been released to the public," he said. "It would be harmful to the defendant and to (prosecutors) if it were to be released.

"The last thing that I want any judge in Mexico to think is there is corruption going on here," Hudson continued.

Laurean's attorney, Dick McNeil, said he doesn't think the incident would help or hurt his client.

"The bizarre becomes even more bizarre," McNeil said. "The case already seems to have a life of its own."

The state Administrative Office of the Courts has assigned a special prosecutor to handle Sharpe's case, Hudson said.