Local News

Accused Marine back in Onslow County

Posted April 17, 2009 3:13 p.m. EDT
Updated April 19, 2009 5:43 p.m. EDT

— A Camp Lejeune Marine charged with killing a pregnant comrade returned to Onslow County on Friday, representatives with the sheriff’s office said.

Cpl. Cesar Laurean was booked around 9 p.m. in the Onslow County Jail. He was being held without bond.

Laurean arrived back in the U.S. earlier Friday, a year after an international manhunt led to his arrest in Mexico.

Laurean was charged with first-degree murder in the December 2007 death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, whose charred remains were found a month later in a shallow grave behind his Jacksonville home.

Lauterbach was seven months pregnant at the time of her death. An autopsy determined she had been beaten to death, and authorities said they found traces of blood inside Laurean's home. They have not said if it was Lauterbach's blood.

Laurean fled Jacksonville hours before Lauterbach's body was found, and he was arrested in April 2008 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.

Laurean tried to fight his extradition from Mexico, but his final appeal was denied this week.

In addition to murder, Laurean faces charges of financial-card transaction fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses.

Federal officials confirmed Friday afternoon that Laurean was back in the country, but it was unclear where he re-entered the country. Various media had reported he was set to appear before a federal judge in Houston or Miami on a charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said he expected Laurean to have his initial court appearance on the murder charge on Monday morning.

Prosecutors have been assembling the case against Laurean in recent months while awaiting his extradition, and Hudson said the trial could begin as early as this fall.

Hudson agreed months ago not to seek the death penalty against Laurean to secure his extradition from Mexico. The country has resisted extraditing people to the U.S. if they could face capital punishment.

Marine Corps officials said Laurean would be discharged from the service once he returns to the Camp Lejeune area.

Dick McNeil, Laurean’s attorney, said he found out a few days ago that Laurean was being returned to the country.

“He gets notified Tuesday by the court, and three days later he is on a plane,” McNeil said.

When Laurean was being held in a Mexican jail, McNeil said he was allowed little contact with his client.

“I just wanted to be included in what was going on down there and that was very hard,” McNeil said.

McNeil said his client “sounded upbeat” Thursday night. He hopes to see Laurean on Saturday.

“We have to catch up by working overtime to read all the evidence and collect some strategies,” McNeil said.

In such a high-profile case, McNeil said, he worries that Laurean might not get a fair trial in Onslow County and plans to argue for a change of venue.

McNeil said he expects his client to plead not guilty.

"There's always another side of the story," he said.