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Pathologist: Blow shattered Lauterbach's skull

A pregnant Camp Lejeune Marine was beaten with such force that her skull basically split in half, a medical examiner testified Wednesday.

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GOLDSBORO, N.C. — A pregnant Camp Lejeune Marine was beaten with such force that her skull basically split in half, a medical examiner testified Wednesday.

Former Marine Cesar 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.

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.

Dr. Thomas Clark, a retired deputy chief medical examiner for North Carolina, said he determined in an autopsy that Lauterbach died of blunt force trauma to her head.

Lauterbach, 20, had numerous fractures to the left side of her skull that caused the bone to fragment, and she had another fracture at the base of the skull that caused the two sides of the skull to separate, Clark said.

"It would have taken substantial force (to cause the injuries)," he testified, adding that death would have been almost instantaneous.

Lauterbach's mother, Mary Lauterbach, sobbed in court as she listened to Clark detail the injuries her daughter suffered.

Clark said a single blow from a heavy object might have caused all of the fractures. Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson asked whether a crowbar might have caused the injuries, and Clark said that was possible.

On Tuesday, two experts with the State Bureau of Investigation testified that Lauterbach's blood was found inside Laurean's garage and on a crowbar that he gave to a Marine buddy two days after Lauterbach disappeared.

Lauterbach also had a gash across her neck that Clark said was caused by a knife or a similarly sharp object, but he said that wound was superficial and wouldn't have led to her death.

Clark said he couldn't pinpoint when Lauterbach died because the body had been charred in the fire pit and was partially decomposed.

Tattoo helped in Laurean's arrest

In other testimony Wednesday, an FBI agent said a distinctive tattoo on Laurean's arm helped Mexican police identify him for arrest.

After Lauterbach's remains were found, authorities conducted an international manhunt for Laurean.

FBI Special Agent Steven Kling testified Wednesday that he worked with Mexican police to locate Laurean and tracked him to a western region of the country, where a pay phone was used to contact his family and where he had been seen in Internet cafes.

While trying to contact authorities in a small town in April 2008, Kling said, police saw a man who looked like Laurean walking down the street, and officers grabbed him. One of them lifted up his shirt sleeve and saw a tattoo of a phoenix on his arm, Kling said.

"I said, 'Cesar, your tattoo doesn't lie. You're caught,'" he said.

Lauterbach 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.

DNA tests conducted by the military after Lauterbach's death determined Laurean wasn't the baby's father.

Defense attorney Dick McNeil has said Lauterbach's false accusation threatened Laurean's military career. He contends jurors should consider her reputation as being untruthful in determining whether her death was premeditated.

The first defense witnesses to testify Wednesday afternoon were two Marine corporals who said they never saw Laurean and Lauterbach together.

Cpl. Viviana Martinez, who lived with Lauterbach for several months in 2007, said Lauterbach claimed Laurean fathered the child. She said she knew about the rape allegation.

Cpl. Taina Robles, who worked with Lauterbach, said she also was aware of the rape allegation, but she said Lauterbach had the reputation of being "a habitual liar."

The defense is expected to continue presenting its case on Thursday.

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