Local News

Ex-Marine pleads not guilty to pregnant comrade's death

Posted June 8, 2009 4:04 a.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2009 6:32 p.m. EDT

— A former Camp Lejuene Marine who was the target of an international manhunt in his pregnant colleague's beating death pleaded not guilty Monday.

Cesar Laurean, 22, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in the December 2007 death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.

Lauterbach told military officials in 2007 that Laurean raped her, but later recanted a claim that he fathered her unborn child. DNA tests later revealed that Laurean wasn't the father, The Associated Press reported last month.

Also on Monday, a Superior Court judge set a tentative date for Laurean to stand trial. Laurean's attorney, Dick McNeal, said he has eight pending murder cases and could not be ready before next year. The judge set March 15, 2010 for the trial to begin.

Laurean fled the United States for Mexico hours before authorities found Lauterbach's charred remains in a shallow grave behind his Jacksonville home in January 2008. He left a note claiming she committed suicide and that he had buried her out of fear.

Mexican authorities captured Laurean in April 2008 in Tacambaro, Mexico, and he was extradited to North Carolina last month after Onslow County prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors formally announced the decision Monday.

"We contend this should have been tried as a capital case," Hudson said. "We contend there were aggravating factors but unfortunately we cannot (try the case as a capital case)," Hudson said.
McNeal has said that his client looks forward to telling his side of the story in the courtroom. He would not comment on a possible defense strategy.

"I think, in this case, it's pretty clear it's going to take a long time to go through, that it's a pretty important case, a serious case, with a lot of issues," he said.

Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson expressed concern after Monday's hearing, saying the trial date is too far away.

"I am not happy about that. We are ready to go to trial, and I think one that's deserving," Hudson said. "People all over the country, maybe all over the world, are following this, and it’s something we should be handling expeditiously. And we're not."

McNeal said after the hearing that he was concerned about Laurean's morale.

For security concerns, he said, his client spends about 164 hours a week in isolation and has 30 minutes a week for visitation, which is standard for those jailed in Onslow County.