08/12/10 — Jury view photographs of Lauterbach's, infant's remains

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Jury view photographs of Lauterbach's, infant's remains

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 12, 2010 9:40 AM
Last update on: August 12, 2010 2:26 PM

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Ex-Marine Cesar Laurean stands at the defense table in Courtroom One at the Wayne County Courthouse Thursday morning during the opening of his trial on the charge of first-degree murder. Laurean is charged in the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach who was found buried in his backyard. If convicted, Laurean could spend life in prison. As a condition of extradition from Mexico, where he fled before his arrest, prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

9:35 a.m.: Shortly after 9:30 this morning, the jury in the first-degree murder trial of ex-Marine Cesar Laurean was seated in Courtroom One at the Wayne County Courthouse and opening arguments were set to begin.

Laurean is on trial for the murder of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. The body of the pregnant lance corporal was found at his Jacksonville home. As part of the extradition agreement with Mexico, prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty for Laurean. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Shortly before 10 a.m.: Opening statements in the trial begin.

Prosecutor Dewey Hudson began his opening statement by describing to the jury what investigators found in Laurean's backyard -- the charred remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn child. He then told the jury of the massive manhunt for Laurean -- one that stretched from eastern North Carolina to Mexico.

In April of 2008 Hudson said Laurean ran out of luck and was captured by authorities in Mexico.

Laurean's defense attorney, Dick McNeil, began his statement several minutes later, telling the jurors the trial would be "very emotional" but imploring that that does not mean it would be clear-cut.

He said by the end of the case, the state would not have proven premeditation or that Laurean is the one responsible for Lauterbach's death.

McNeil described Lauterbach as a troubled young woman with a dark background and painted Laurean as a "good Marine," who at times had to help Lauterbach try to resolve her "shortcomings."

Following a comment by McNeil during his opening statement that Lauterbach had a tendency to lie, the jury was briefly excused when Hudson objected.

Hudson said "her credibility is not an issue in this case."

Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith said he would allow McNeil to continue but advised him to "tread lightly."

When the jury returned, McNeil said, "Something triggered this young lady to be emotionally upset." And he continued, her emotional state would be a major factor in the case.

"We submit when all the evidence is done ... You will have reasonable doubt," he said.

10:15 a.m.: With the conclusion of opening statements, the state called its first witness, Daniel Durham.

Durham is a Marine who has served 10 years in the Corps and was Lauterbach's roommate.

Durham was asked by prosecutor Dewey Hudson to describe Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach to the jury. He described her as someone who "kind of just kept to herself."

Durham, said he got off work Friday Dec. 14, (2007) at between 4 and 4:30 p.m. and found a note at the home written by Lauterbach.

The note said: "Dan, Sorry but I cannot take this Marine Corps life anymore."

The note said she was leaving.

Durham, said he called Lauterbach's phone but it went straight to voicemail, so he called her mother and her sister.

He decided not to tell the Marine Corps right away. He thought maybe she was simply "blowing off steam" and decided not to turn her in until after the weekend.

10:30 a.m.: McNeil began his cross examination of the witness, Daniel Durham.

Durham revealed Lauterbach owed him about $600 -- a month-and-a-half worth of rent.

He also said Lauterbach told him she didn't know whether or not to keep the baby or put it up for adoption.

Shortly thereafter, the jury was excused when Hudson objected to McNeil asking whether Lauterbach had ever indicated to the witness who she thought the child's father was.

The judge overruled Hudson's objection, the jurors were returned to the courtroom and the witness was told he could step down from the stand.

10:48 a.m.: The state calls Special Agent Chip Coble, a SBI crime scene search specialist to testify.

Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee conducted the questioning of the special agent, who was called to assist the Onslow County Sheriff's Office search of the crime scene.

Coble arrived at the crime scene Jan. 11, 2008.

The agent used a Google Earth map to show the jury the areas surrounding the crime scene.

Coble described the neighborhood in which the crime scene was located as "middle class" and "average." He then continued to orient the jury to the area using a GIS map that shows a bird's eye view of the crime scene.

The special agent also described Laurean's home and backyard to the jurors.

Shortly thereafter, at 11:03 a.m., court was recessed for 15 minutes.

11:15 a.m.: Court resumed with Assistant Prosecutor Ernie Lee questioning the SBI agent.

Coble continued to describe the Laurean home to the jury, stating the residence is a "single-story," "single-family home."

He described to the jurors the contents of the home, including photos, Marine Corps uniforms and Laurean's passport -- indicators to the agent that the home was where Laurean resided.

Coble then utilized a floor plan diagram provided by the state, to walk the jury through the layout of the Laurean home.

The state then showed jurors pictures of the home at 103 Meadow Trail -- the front yard, front of the home, front door and backyard and asked the special agent if he recognized the home.

Coble affirmed he recognized the photos as Laurean's home.

11:38 a.m.:The crime scene investigator began describing his investigation of the scene.

Coble said he moved his investigation to the backyard where he found an area of "disturbed earth" surrounded by 12 cinder blocks. He also said during his inspection of the garage where he found what appeared to be blood on a plastic container, the floor and a wall.

As photographs of the fire pit were entered into evidence Lauterbach's mother began to cry.

The jury was then shown the photographs of the backyard and close-up photographs of the area of "disturbed earth."

As the jury viewed close up photographs of the charred cinder blocks Lauterbach's mother began to cry again.

The crime scene investigator said it was too dark during the scene investigation on Jan. 11, 2008, to examine the area of disturbed earth and returned at approximately 9 a.m. the following day.

At that time they focused the investigation on the area and found "what appeared to be human remains."

Following Coble's statement, the jury was then excused from the courtroom.

12:01 p.m.: Photos of the fire pit excavation are entered into evidence.

The state introduced additional fire pit photos into evidence including one displaying a human hand while the jury was not present.

Lauterbach's mother, again, started to cry.

Upon introduction of the photographs, including one of the hand of an unborn fetus, the defense objected to the evidence being presented.

McNeil argued that the photograph is inflammatory, stating that Laurean has not been charged with the death of an unborn child.

Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee told the judge all the photos are necessary because each photo depicts a different angle and brings new information to the table.

Lee also said because the victim was pregnant, the photo which includes the unborn fetus's hand should be admitted to evidence.

Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith overruled the defense's objection and said all the photos would be allowed.

The jury was then returned to the courtroom.

Upon the jury's return Coble continued to describe the fire pit area in the backyard at the Laurean home. The scene investigator then began to refer to the site as a grave.

Coble used a laser pointer to direct jurors to details in the set of photos from the excavation of the fire pit grave site.

Lauterbach's mother began to cry as Coble pointed out her daughter's head and ribs.

"This is the head," he said, using the laser pointer. "I believe this to be the ribs."

A photograph of the site following the removal of the remains was then shown.

The state then displayed a photograph which included the remains of an infant.

When asked by the state to identify the photo Coble said, "The item appears to be an infant's hand."

Lauterbach's mother again began to cry.

Court was then recessed until 2 p.m. for lunch.

2:02 p.m.: Court resumed and viewing of the photos of the grave site and remains continued.

Photos of the remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn child were passed among the jurors for individual viewing as Laurean's family looked on. The witness was then presented to the defense for cross examination.

Shortly thereafter Coble stepped down from the witness box.

2:20 p.m.: The state calls its third witness, Cecil Jones.

Jones is an underground construction worker.

Log on to the News-Argus today to watch video reports on the trial and to find the latest breaking news and images from the courtroom.