Ex-Marine questions slain victim's truthfulness

Cesar Laurean
Cesar Laurean

GOLDSBORO, N.C. (AP) - A defense attorney for an ex-Marine charged with killing a pregnant Camp Lejeune colleague in 2007 went on the attack Thursday, calling witnesses to cast doubt on the victim's truthfulness.

Jurors heard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Caroline Bier testify that while then-corporal Cesar Laurean and Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach served under her in the personnel unit, she observed Laurean as "mature, an outstanding performer," while Lauterbach's reputation was "that she was not always truthful."

A second Marine in the personnel unit, Carmen Ortega, also testified that Lauterbach had trouble telling the truth.

"I couldn't really believe most of her comments," Ortega said.

Before she was slain, Lauterbach had accused Laurean of raping her, then recanted her claim that he was responsible for impregnating her. Defense attorney Dick McNeil had said at the start of the trial that prosecutors would fail to meet their obligation to prove Laurean is guilty of planning the slaying of Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio.

Laurean is charged with first-degree murder. McNeil has painted Laurean, 23, of Las Vegas, as the victim of a false rape accusation that retarded his military career. He has tried to demonstrate to jurors the stress Laurean was under, while also suggesting that someone else might have killed the young Marine inside Laurean's garage. However, the jury did not hear everything Bier had to say about Lauterbach's conduct after Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III refused to allow some of her testimony.

Outside the jury's presence, Bier said Lauterbach admitted stealing money from an office collection to buy Christmas decorations in 2006. When confronted, Lauterbach returned the cash, Bier said. When Bier asked Lauterbach why, she made up a story about a family tragedy that never happened.

"This was a pretty serious lie," Bier said. "That raised pretty serious concerns, that she would lie to this extent."

Several weeks later, Lauterbach was habitually failing to get to work on time, so Bier said she asked the higher-ranking Laurean to coach Lauterbach in hopes her performance would improve.

"She was being counseled over and over for her tardiness" about the time she accused Laurean of raping her in the spring of 2007, Bier said.

Lauterbach later recanted her claim that Laurean impregnated her. DNA tests revealed that Laurean wasn't the father. Lauterbach was in her third trimester of pregnancy when she disappeared. But the rape allegation persisted and a probable cause hearing on whether there was enough evidence to court-martial Laurean was expected around the time Lauterbach disappeared in December 2007, Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Megan Grafton testified. Grafton said Laurean's wife, Christina, cooperated with law officers from the day Laurean fled. He left his wife a note describing his version of events and alleging that Lauterbach killed herself.

That note, along with e-mails the couple exchanged in the months after Laurean fled to Mexico will not be seen by jurors due to a rule that prevents communication between spouses from being used in court. Lauterbach's remains were discovered in a shallow grave in Laurean's backyard, hours after Christina Laurean handed over the note to authorities.

Cesar Laurean was arrested in western Mexico and extradited last year. The potential for a death penalty was dropped in exchange for Mexico returning Laurean. He was kicked out of the Marines after fleeing. Christina Laurean stayed in contact with her husband for months at the request of investigators, Grafton said. Her testimony under questioning by prosecutors was aimed at discrediting a defense theory that Christina Laurean could have killed Lauterbach. McNeil has not accused anyone of a crime.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)