Local News

DA: Accused Marine might remain in Mexico

Posted October 13, 2008 2:05 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2008 7:13 p.m. EDT

— A Camp Lejeune Marine accused of killing a pregnant comrade last year might never be extradited from Mexico to face criminal charges in the case, Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said Monday.

Cpl. Cesar Laurean is charged with first-degree murder in the December death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, whose charred remains were found in January in a shallow grave behind Laurean's Jacksonville home. Lauterbach was seven months' pregnant at the time of her death.

Laurean fled Jacksonville on Jan. 11, hours before Lauterbach's body was found, and was arrested in April in a small town in western Mexico after an international manhunt.

Hudson reluctantly agreed months ago not to seek the death penalty against Laurean if he were apprehended in Mexico. For decades, Mexico has resisted extraditing people to the U.S. if they could face capital punishment.

Laurean has appealed a Mexican court's September ruling to send him to the U.S. One of the arguments presented by his Mexican attorneys is that a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole violates the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Mexico, according to Dick McNeil, Laurean's attorney in North Carolina.

Hudson said such an argument would tie his hands as far as prosecuting Laurean.

"It's not like I can decide some other punishment," he said. "Those (death and life without parole) are the only two punishments (for first-degree murder), so consequently, if that is true, then I am not certain what I can do."

"A lot of questions are being raised, (but) not too many answers," McNeil said, noting Laurean's Mexican attorneys aren't keeping him informed of what's happening. "I don't know how (prosecutors) would get around that, if it's at all possible to get around it."

Laurean left behind a note when he fled in January in which he claimed Lauterbach had committed suicide and that he had buried her out of fear.

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

McNeil has said Laurean continues to maintain his innocence in Lauterbach's death, but he said he had no idea why he won't return to Onslow County to fight the charges at trial.

"That's something I can't really divulge because I am not privy to it," he said.

Hudson said the appeal of the extradition order could take up to two years, and he said his biggest fear is that Laurean may never be sent back to face charges.

"Certainly, it would be ridiculous to think that, if they don't allow extradition, that they're just going to allow him out of jail in Mexico to wander and be a free person," he said. "I would hope that's not what will happen, but I'm not certain of that."

Lt. Col. Curtis Hill, spokesman for Camp Lejeune, said the military has no pending charges against Laurean and is letting the civilian authorities in Onslow County handle the case.