NC officials: Mexican court OKs Marine extradition

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - A Mexican court is allowing a Marine accused in the brutal slaying of a pregnant colleague to be extradited to the U.S., but it could be weeks or months before he returns to stand trial, North Carolina authorities said Thursday.

Cpl. Cesar Laurean is charged with first-degree murder in Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach's death.

Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, was eight months pregnant when she disappeared in December. Her burned remains, and those of her unborn child, were found in January in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home near Camp Lejeune, the sprawling military base on the North Carolina coast where both served as clerks.

Laurean, 21, went to Mexico when investigators began questioning him in her disappearance and he was arrested there in April. He will not face the death penalty under an agreement with Mexico, North Carolina authorities have said in the past.

The U.S. Embassy expected a ruling on Laurean's extradition this week, but had not yet been notified on Thursday. But Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson and Laurean's defense attorney, Dick McNeil, were among those who said they had been alerted to the Mexican court's decision. Both embassy and local officials also said Laurean has 15 days to appeal that decision. McNeil would not comment on whether Laurean planned to.

"If he does appeal, that will extend this outward for a few more months," McNeil said.

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said he expects to have Laurean in his custody in about a week, based on a conversation with the FBI. But both McNeil and Hudson said it was more likely that it would take several weeks to arrange Laurean's return, assuming he does not appeal the order.

The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted the extradition Sept. 4, the Mexican Embassy said in a statement. Both a judge and the ministry analyze extradition cases in Mexico. The presiding judge supported Laurean's return, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which makes the final decision, agreed.

Laurean, of Las Vegas, and Lauterbach were assigned to the same logistics unit at Camp Lejeune, and she had accused him of rape last year. Naval investigators were unable to corroborate the allegation, and she later recanted her claim that Laurean was the father of her unborn child. Still, the Marines have said their regimental commander was intent on taking the case to a hearing that could have led to a trial.

Laurean had told friends he would flee to Mexico if it appeared he would be convicted of rape. Detectives have said Laurean, in a note to his wife, denied killing Lauterbach, claiming she committed suicide and that he buried her. Laurean's constant contact with his wife and family eventually led to his arrest.

Prosecutors say he frequently logged into an e-mail account belonging to his wife, Christina, and left her messages. She refused to help him and has cooperated with authorities.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)