Laurean denied bond in pregnant Marine's slaying
Posted April 20, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2009 7:05 p.m. EDT
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — A Camp Lejeune Marine who fled to Mexico shortly before he was charged in the death of a pregnant comrade 16 months ago made his first court appearance Monday.
Cpl. Cesar Laurean was charged with first-degree murder in the December 2007 death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, whose charred remains were found in a shallow grave behind the Jacksonville home Laurean shared with his wife and young daughter.
Lauterbach, 20, was seven months pregnant at the time of her death. Authorities haven't determined who fathered her child, but they plan to seek a DNA test to determine if Laurean is the father.
In addition to murder, Laurean faces charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon, financial transaction card theft, attempted financial transaction card fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses. Those charges stem from the theft of Lauterbach's bank card, which was later used to withdraw money.
During a brief court appearance Monday, Laurean told Superior Court Judge Paul Hardison that he understood the charges against him. Hardison denied bond on the murder charge and set a $5,000 bond on the other charges.
None of Laurean's or Lauterbach's relatives attended the hearing.
Laurean fled Jacksonville in January 2008, hours before Lauterbach's body was found. An international manhunt resulted in his arrest a year ago 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. 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 tried to fight his extradition from Mexico, but his final appeal was denied last week. He was brought back to Onslow County late Friday.
"I'm glad that Cesar Laurean is in our jail and the process of justice is underway," Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said. "You can run, you can hide, but you cannot get away from the long arm of the law."
The death of Lauterbach and her unborn child, whom the family named Gabriel, has elicited an unprecedented level of anger among area residents, Brown said.
"It appears to me that the murder of Gabriel incites the unbelievable desire for vengeance from the people," he said.
Laurean wore a bullet-proof vest under his orange jail jumpsuit to his court hearing, authorities said.
Defense attorney Dick McNeil said he would likely seek to have the trial moved from Onslow County. He cited Brown's comments about local anger over the case as evidence that extensive publicity surrounding the case would jeopardize Laurean's right to impartial jurors and a fair trial.
"We feel the loss of the Lauterbach family and we sympathize with them, but we have to be concerned about justice," he said.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson previously agreed not to seek the death penalty against Laurean to secure his extradition from Mexico. That country has refused to send people who could be executed back to the U.S. He said Monday he was disappointed with that aspect of the case but said it wouldn't affect how he tries the case.
"They get to tell our courts what the proper punishment is for crimes in our country," he said. "I disagree with that."
McNeil said he met with Laurean for the first time Saturday and said the Marine was in good spirits and was glad to be back in Jacksonville and close to his family.
Laurean's wife, Lance Cpl. Christina Laurean, also visited him in the Onslow County Jail, McNeil said.
The Marine Corps will soon file the paperwork to issue a dishonorable discharge to Cesar Laurean for being absent without leave, McNeil said, adding that Laurean has agreed not to contest the move.
McNeil said he was eager to get the criminal case going, saying "there's a whole other side of the story that hasn't been told." Still, he said the case likely wouldn't go to trial until next year.
He said he is handling three other murder cases scheduled for trial in the next five months. Also, prosecutors are expected to hand over about 6,000 pages of evidence in the next few days, and McNeil said he needs time to review the case with Laurean.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson has said he would be ready to go to trial in the fall.
Laurean's next court date was set for May 18.