National News

Search for Marine Suspect Expands

Posted January 14, 2008 9:50 p.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2008 9:10 a.m. EST

— Federal authorities plan to post billboards nationwide with the picture of a Marine wanted in the slaying of a pregnant colleague, and the sheriff announced a $25,000 reward Monday for information leading to his arrest.

Authorities are looking for Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, wanted in the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who had accused him of rape. FBI officials said the first billboards with Laurean's photo would appear in Tampa, Fla., Columbus, Ohio, and Las Vegas.

"The search for Laurean is Earthwide," Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said at a news conference.

Authorities recovered what they believe to be the burned remains of Lauterbach and her fetus from a fire pit in Laurean's backyard over the weekend. Detectives believe Laurean, 21, of the Las Vegas area, fled Jacksonville before dawn Friday, and have said he left behind a note in which he admitted burying her body but claimed she cut her own throat in a suicide.

Brown, who has rejected the idea that Lauterbach committed suicide, said late Monday that authorities had received a preliminary autopsy report on the remains, but he declined to discuss details, other than to say a gun was not used.

FBI spokesman Newsom Summerlin said investigators have no reason to believe Laurean has fled the country, but that it is possible.

Brown also said Monday that an ATM card belonging to Lauterbach was found Saturday in Durham. A jogger passing by a Greyhound Bus station downtown noticed it in the bushes and turned it over to Durham police.

Police said it was unlikely the card was used at the bus station because the card reader there has been out of operation for several days.

Investigators remain unsure of the accuracy of witness reports placing Laurean at a bus depot in Shreveport, La., on Saturday night, Brown said. The witnesses were unclear whether the man believed to be Laurean boarded a bus that was headed to Texas or left the station, he said.

Still, Brown confidently predicted that Laurean would be caught.

"You're never gone for good when law enforcement is after you," he said. "It may be two days or two weeks, 10 days or 10 years, but you're never gone for good."

North Carolina is one of 15 states without a fetal homicide law, but Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said he has no plans to step aside in favor of a military prosecution. Georgetown University law professor Gary Solis said local authorities have primary jurisdiction in the case.

"They have the crime scene and they have the physical evidence," Solis said. "The military would have secondary jurisdiction if the DA decided not to pursue the case."

That makes it unlikely that Laurean would be prosecuted under the federal fetal homicide law passed in 2004 during the height of attention to the California trial of Scott Peterson, who was accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci.

The federal law makes it a crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman, but the pro-life activists who pushed for it believe it has never been used - in part because murder cases are typically prosecuted in state courts.

The military could technically seek charges at the same time as civilian authorities, said Scott Silliman, a former military lawyer who is now director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University. But a joint prosecution is not recommended by the military's manual for courts martial, Silliman said.

"As a matter of law, the military could prosecute him separately," Silliman said. "But as a matter of policy, it rarely happens and only in a very unusual set of circumstances."

In Lauterbach's hometown near Dayton, Ohio, hundreds of friends and neighbors offered prayers for her Monday evening. Relatives filed into a church for a prayer service and sat in the front row.

"This evening, we are suffering," the Rev. Francis Keferl told a spillover crowd of more than 800 at St. Christopher Catholic Church.

Lauterbach's mother, Mary, dabbed at her eyes with a tissue during the 40-minute service. A congregant gave her a pink rose.

Members of the congregation will remember Lauterbach for her strength, vitality, independent spirit, athletic talents and service as a Marine, said Elise Wahle, youth ministry coordinator for the church.

Lauterbach's father, Victor Lauterbach, is an Air Force Reserve master sergeant in the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, which is part of the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

"Her goal was to be a Marine and wear the uniform," said neighbor Kent Zimmerman.