08/12/10 — Live from the courtroom: Witness testimony continues in Laurean trial

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Live from the courtroom: Witness testimony continues in Laurean trial

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 12, 2010 9:40 AM

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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 that 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.

He told the prosecutors he found Lauterbach's cell phone near the front gate of Camp Lejuene on the side of the road.

When he picked the phone up it was wet, so he let it dry a few days before turning it on.

When a man called the phone and told Jones to call Lauterbach's sister he did so and she told him to turn it into the Onslow County Sheriff's Office, Jones said.

The state then introduced the phone into evidence and asked Jones to confirm it was the phone he found. Jones acknowledged was then turned over to the defense for cross-examination.

Shortly thereafter Jones stepped down from the witness stand.

2:31 p.m.: The state calls Blake Costa to the witness stand.

Costa, a Marine, has served four years in the Corps and was stationed at Camp Lejuene at the time of Lauterbach's death. He was friends with the defendant and had attended a barbecue at the Laurean home.

Costa told the jurors Laurean told him he had consensual sex with Lauterbach, but that she claimed she was raped and that he wanted to convince her to move to Mexico with the understanding he would send her money to keep her away.

Costa said he advised Laurean to seek civilian counsel regarding the situation.

He was then turned over to the defense for cross examination.

When asked by McNeil, Costa explained he was friends with Laurean from May to December of 2007. Costa said that Laurean was "a good Marine in our eyes."

Shortly thereafter, Costa stepped down from the witness stand.

3:01 p.m.: The state calls Pam Chavis to the stand.

Chavis was an employee at the Camp Lejuene base exchange. She told the jurors she had seen Laurean and Lauterbach shopping there on numerous occasions and at one point shopping for Christmas gifts together. She described Lauterbach as "pregnant and in uniform -- very pregnant."

Chavis told Assistant Prosecutor Ernie Lee that Laurean was looking for a gift for his grandmother and she suggested "why don't you ask your wife."

"I thought they were married," she told Lee.

The state concluded their questioning and McNeil then began his cross examination of the exchange employee.

During the cross-examination of the Chavis, McNeil questioned the information Chavis provided to Naval investigators about her encounters with and observations about Laurean and Lautherbach.

Shortly thereafter she stepped down from the witness stand.

3:10 p.m.: The state calls its sixth witness.

The witness, Randolf Revert, a Marine, told the jurors he was responsible for the check-in and check-out of Marines and their weapons assigned to shooting qualification, including Cesar Laurean. Revert told the jury Laurean checked-in and checked-out with him throughout the duration of training, which took place Dec. 10 through Dec. 21 and coincided with the week of Lauterbach's death.

Following a brief cross examination Revert stepped down from the witness stand.

Court recessed for approximately 15 minutes.

3:46 p.m.: Camp Lejuene-based Marine Justin Goodman takes the stand.

Goodman told the jurors he worked at the rifle range during the time Laurean was assigned to shooting qualification. When asked to verify Laurean was present on the range Goodman said "as far as I know."

He told the jurors the Marines left the range at 8:30 a.m. on Friday Dec. 14 for the day.

During cross-examination, McNeil asked Goodman if he knew 100 percent what Laurean did when he left the range.

Goodman replied, "No," adding that most Marines "call it a day" after being dismissed from the range.

3:55 p.m.: Lauterbach's commanding officer, Trocon Brumskine at the time of her death takes the witness stand.

Lauterbach's commanding officer told the jurors she was under his command during the time of her death. He explained pregnant females are permitted to leave the office a bit early and stated that on Dec. 14 she left work around 3:30 p.m.

During cross examination by McNeil, Brumskine explained he met her in May of 2007 and he confirmed he was her supervisor.

The commanding officer went on to explain a military protective order was issued against Laurean, ordering him to stay away from Lauterbach.

McNeil then asked if the commanding officer ever saw the two together. The Marine replied, "No."

Brumskine stated he saw Lauterbach on Dec. 14 and told the defense she did not appear to be acting strange.

Through questioning he also revealed Lauterbach had told him the person who got her pregnant did so via rape.

He confirmed he had seen Lauterbach depressed at times.

"Some days she was sad and some days she was happy," he said.

4:10 p.m.: The state calls Roshaun Hames, a Greyhound bus ticket salesman to the stand.

Hames told jurors he saw Lauterbach enter the station on Dec. 14 and asked her if she needed help. They talked for a while and Lauterbach asked if she could leave her car in the parking lot.

He then assisted Lauterbach in the purchase of a bus ticket from Jacksonville to El Paso, Texas. The ticket was for Dec. 15, Hames told the jury.

Hames said Lauterbach told him she was pregnant from somebody on base.

He said she didn't leave her car that day, but he saw the blue car in the parking lot later on. A photo of the car was then admitted into evidence. Hames commented the car was not parked as he remembered before cross examination began.

Hames told McNeil he saw her at the station around 5 p.m. and had to see her ID card to give her the military discount for the ticket.

Hames told the jury Lauterbach told him she was leaving the Marines because the Marine Corps did her wrong. He also confirmed seeing her car in the parking lot on the following Monday.

When asked to describe Lauterbach's state when she came into the station he said she was " a little distraught."

4:22 p.m.: Kim Bucek, the owner of a child care facility where Laurean's child attended takes the stand.

Bucek told the jury that typically Cesar Laurean dropped his daughter off at the child care center and that his wife picked their daughter up.

The state entered into evidence the sign-in and sign-out sheets from the day care from Dec. 6 and Dec. 14. On Dec. 6 Bucek said she arrived at 6:45 a.m. and left work after 5 p.m. during which Cesar Laurean both dropped-off and picked-up his daughter. On Dec. 14 she said she arrived at the day care at 6:50 a.m. and departed at 5:20 p.m., during which the wife signed their daughter in and out that day.

She explained that Cesar usually brought the girl in the early morning but that beginning in January 2008 the wife began bringing the girl and she no longer saw Cesar. She reported that the wife continued to come to the day care for several months after the news of Lauterbach's death was reported by the media.

During cross examination, McNeil questioned Bucek about whether she could be incorrect about whose signatures were on the documents. She responded that the wife has "a girl's handwriting" and said she is confident in her judgment of which signature is which.

4:42 Maj. Frank Terwilliger of the Onslow County Sheriff's Office takes the witness stand.

The major told the jury he located Lauterbach's car on Jan. 7, 2008 at the bus station at around 9:20 p.m. The car, a blue 2006 Hyundai. At the time, he inspected the car and took photos of the vehicle before it was later towed.

During cross examination, Terwilliger told McNeil the office had been looking for the vehicle for several weeks. He said he first looked at local motels before going to it. It was then he stumbled across the car on his way out of the nearby restaurant.

Terwilliger then stepped down from the witness stand and the judge dismissed court for the day. The trial is expected to continue Friday at 9:30 a.m. as the state continues its case against Laurean.

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