Local News

Laurean gave crowbar to Marine buddy

Posted August 16, 2010 4:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2010 11:27 a.m. EDT

— A former Camp Lejeune Marine testified Monday that Cesar Laurean gave him a blood-spattered crowbar in late December 2007, and he turned the tool over to authorities after learning that the remains of another Marine were found in Laurean's yard.

Laurean, 23, is charged with killing Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach in December 2007 and burying her body in a fire pit behind his Jacksonville home.

Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, was nearly eight months pregnant at the time of her death. She had accused Laurean of raping her in the spring of 2007, and although she later recanted the allegation, Camp Lejeune officials continued to investigate the case until her death.

She was last seen on Dec. 14, 2007.

Dennis Ward, who left the Marine Corps last year, testified Monday that he went with Laurean to a Lowe's home-improvement store in Jacksonville on Dec. 16, 2007, where Laurean bought several cinder blocks to build a fire pit. He said he helped Laurean put the cinder blocks in his backyard and instructed him on how to build the fire pit.

Ward testified that, when Laurean dropped him back home later that day, he gave him a crowbar that Ward had seen months earlier and had said he wanted.

After hearing of Lauterbach's death a few weeks later, Ward said, he examined the crowbar and noticed a speck of what looked like dried blood on a piece of tape on the crowbar, and he and his wife decided to turn the crowbar over to Onslow County authorities.

"It didn't add up to me. I was there when that fire pit was built," he said.

Earlier Monday, a State Bureau of Investigation agent testified that he collected samples of what appeared to be blood spatters from Laurean's garage.

Large stains were found on a pink, inflatable raft, agent Steve Combs said. The raft has been folded up and stored in the garage, he said.

Spatters and larger stains also were found on the floor, wall and ceiling, as well as on plastic storage bins, a paint can and a peg board, Combs said. A small area of the garage wall had been painted over, he said.

Laurean fled Jacksonville hours before Lauterbach's remains were discovered in January 2008. He left behind a note saying that she had killed herself and that he had buried her out of fear.

An autopsy determined that she was killed by a blow to the head and that a slash on her throat was superficial.

An international manhunt led to Laurean's arrest in April 2008 in rural Mexico. In order to extradite him to North Carolina, prosecutors promised Mexican authorities that he wouldn't seek the death penalty against him.

SBI Special Agent Matthew Clifton testified Monday that a Quiksilver-brand T-shirt was found in Laurean's home during a January 2008 search. The shirt was similar to one worn by a man who tried to use Lauterbach's bank card, as seen in security camera photos taken at a Jacksonville automated teller machine, he said.

Last week, a Marine Federal Credit Union executive testified that a man tried to use Lauterbach's bank card at an ATM on Dec. 24, 2007, which authorities say was 10 days after Lauterbach went missing.

Clifton also examined Lauterbach's Hyundai and Laurean's Dodge pickup for evidence in the case. He said he found 39 Prozac pills in the glove-box of Lauterbach's car, but he couldn't recall if they were prescribed to her.

Investigators weren't able to check the fire pit in Laurean's backyard for footprints, Clifton testified, because Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown was tramping around the area, using a wire coat hanger as a divining rod.

Prosecutors say they plan to call Lauterbach’s mother to the stand before they wrap up their case, which is expected Wednesday. Since her daughter’s death, Mary Lauterbach has pushed the Pentagon to allow troops who allege sexual assault to transfer out of their unit.

Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said Laurean's wife, Christina Laurean, also has been subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution. Her attorney is expected in court Tuesday to fight the subpoena, Hudson said.

Under state law, a husband or wife cannot be compelled to testify against his or her spouse.

Laurean’s attorney, Dick McNeil, will call defense witnesses after the prosecution case is complete.

McNeil last week put Lauterbach's character on trial, saying she had a history of lying and that her false accusation threatened Laurean's military career. He said her reputation as being untruthful will play a role in whether jurors believe there was premeditation in her death.