Local News

Marines: Lauterbach was known liar

Posted August 19, 2010 9:49 a.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2010 6:30 p.m. EDT

— Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach fabricated a story about a dead brother to explain the theft of money from the Camp Lejeune office where she worked before her death in late 2007, a former Marine supervisor testified Thursday.

Former Marine Cesar Laurean, 23, is charged with killing Lauterbach in December 2007 and burying her body in a fire pit behind his Jacksonville home.

Laurean chose not to testify in his defense on Thursday, and Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith dismissed the jury until Monday, when closing arguments are expected and deliberations could begin.

Lauterbach, 20, 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 built his case around Lauterbach's false accusation and the threat it posed to Laurean's military career. He contended jurors needed to be able to consider her reputation as being untruthful in determining whether her death was premeditated.

Smith effectively cut down that defense following the close of testimony Thursday when he ruled that he wouldn't give jurors the option of considering a second-degree murder conviction for Laurean. He said he plans to instruct the jury to find him either guilty or innocent of first-degree murder, in addition to the other charges he faces in connection with the theft and use of Lauterbach's bank card.

A first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors did agree to dismiss a charge of obtaining property by false pretense against Laurean.

Some defense testimony ruled inadmissable

Several Marines who worked with or lived with Lauterbach were called as defense witnesses on Wednesday and Thursday and said she was known for telling lies.

Smith asked to hear from Chief Warrant Officer Caroline Bier with the jury out of the courtroom so he could determine whether to allow her testimony.

Bier detailed Lauterbach's troubled history at Camp Lejeune. In late 2006, money contributed to a fund for holiday decorations was missing from the office where Lauterbach worked, and officials later determined that Lauterbach had stolen it, Bier said.

When Lauterbach was confronted about the theft, Bier said, she explained that she needed money to visit her brother's grave. She told Bier that her brother had been killed in a family altercation and that she hadn't been able to attend his funeral.

Bier said she called Lauterbach's adoptive mother and learned that her brother was still alive. Mary Lauterbach told Bier that her daughter "had a tendency to create fantasies" and said that at least one of her biological parents suffered from mental illness.

"I was shocked because this wasn’t a simple fib to get out of something. This was a pretty serious lie,” Bier testified.

After Laurean joined the unit in February 2007, Bier said, she asked him to counsel Lauterbach for consistent tardiness. Lauterbach told her supervisors that she was having family troubles in Ohio involving her sister's pregnancy. Lauterbach said their mother wanted her sister to give the baby up for adoption, and Lauterbach said she wanted to adopt the child, according to Bier.

The rape allegation was made in May 2007, and Bier said Lauterbach told her she wasn't taking medication she had been prescribed by a mental health specialist at the time.

Smith ruled most of Bier's comments weren't admissible as evidence.

When the jury returned, Bier was allowed to say that Laurean was an exemplary Marine, that Lauterbach had a reputation as being untruthful and that she cautioned Lauterbach against making a false allegation against Laurean.

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 international manhunt led to his arrest in Mexico three months later.

A medical examiner testified Wednesday that Lauterbach died from a severe blow to the head.

Earlier, 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.