County gets set for Laurean trial
By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 20, 2010 1:50 AM
People with business at the Wayne County Courthouse will need to allow for even more time than normal for traffic, parking and security beginning in August when the first-degree murder trial of former Marine Cesar Laurean gets under way.
Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones, Wayne's senior resident Superior Court judge, already has been contacted by CNN, and he and other local officials are expecting the trial to draw national attention and all the financial costs and logistical issues that come with such an event.
"We have to make sure for jurors and court business it is as little headache as possible," Jones said. "We will not just have the Laurean trial. Other court business will be going on as well.
"It will be something not seen around the courthouse before. I am confident we can accommodate it and not inconvenience anyone, but we have got to be ready ahead of time."
The trial of Laurean for the murder of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach of Vandalia, Ohio, who was pregnant at the time of her death, has gained national attention and Jones expects a large number of people to be in attendance.
"Anyone who wants to do so, or who has business at the courthouse needs to allow themselves extra time and get there early because of the expected heavy traffic," he said.
Laurean is charged with first-degree murder.
Laurean, who is currently being held in the Onslow County Jail, fled to Mexico shortly before Ms. Lauterbach's burned remains were found buried in his backyard in Jacksonville in January 2008. He was arrested three months later and extradited to North Carolina in 2009.
The trial, which was moved to Wayne because of pre-trial publicity in Onslow County, was first scheduled for June 28, but has been pushed back to Aug. 9.
Judge Osmond Smith will be the trial judge, Jones said.
"That is going to be interesting. We are going to learn some stuff about security," County Manager Lee Smith said. "We will meet within the next week, all of the court system, law enforcement, EMS, because this is a national trial. I will tell everybody that starting the first of August, when this thing happens, you absolutely, in coming to the courthouse, will be inconvenienced."
Some ways people in the community can help themselves is to take care of issues such as payment of taxes through the mail or the county's website if at all possible. He also said that attorneys and others who need security badges have been told to get those now, that all new requests will be suspended in July.
One logistical issue in particularly, Smith said, will be dealing with the expected crush or local, state and national media. The county will have to figure out where media, especially the national media outlets with their tractor-trailers, generators and other self-contained equipment, will be placed, he said.
"We have to figure out how you keep regular business going," he said. "A building could catch on fire -- the fire department has to get on through. That is going to impact local downtown businesses. It will be good and bad for them because flow-through traffic is going to change. There will be streets that will be cut off in the downtown area. We are working with the police department on that."
They're also working the Sheriff's Office and city Police Department on security -- both for those attending the trial and for Laurean.
"We also have an obligation to protect the folks on trial. It is very dangerous. We are going to have to be very cognizant of the movement of this inmate," Smith said. "When you see an inmate who has a (Kevlar) vest on, you usually see two or three law enforcement officers. Those law enforcement officers are in a dangerous position, so are others walking nearby."
Smith said the county also will have a "lot of talks" with it employees who work at the courthouse.
"You have the register of deeds and the tax office, finance, that having nothing to do with the trial, but we will be impacted," he said. "You may be walking down the hall and all of a sudden you are involved in the movement of an inmate. This is an opportunity to make sure we are doing things the right way."
People can expect to see stepped up security at courthouse entrances he said.
"You will have regular security here, but you will see more law enforcement," he said. "You will see armed officers at most entrances, in fact probably all entrances during the trial."
In preparation for that, the county will hold tabletop exercises in the coming days -- with the help of other counties that have gone through similar trials -- to review different scenarios, similar to planning for a hurricane or bomb threat.
"We have to go through all of those scenarios because you know what will happen -- bomb threats will be called in. Somebody will pull a fire alarm," he said. "When you then have to evacuate in that kind of situation it is extremely dangerous so we have got to step it up."
Unfortunately, though, all of these efforts will cost the county, Smith said.
"Right now I don't see any reimbursement," he said. "There will be additional cost and overtime for law enforcement and court system. It is going to cost the city of Goldsboro because if they have to have officers sitting at intersections. None of us will be reimbursed for that."
On the flip side, Smith said there are any positive aspects to the trial being held in the county.
"Absolutely there are economic impacts -- hotels, food vendors, the sale of fuel, the sale of food those things get impacted," Smith said. "Do you necessarily want to be recognized for a trial? No. However, there is some impact and you want to do things well.
"You want to see that it is professional and managed well even down to how we manage media. We will have media set up in certain areas. That is part of why I am going to have to close some streets off. We are telling everybody please be patient. We will get through it, but it could be two weeks, could be eight weeks. I don't know how long it is going to be."