08/13/10 — Live from the courtroom: Second day of Laurean trial concludes

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Live from the courtroom: Second day of Laurean trial concludes

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 13, 2010 9:25 AM

News-Argus Video Report


NCIS Special Agent Randy Dulay is sworn in before testifying Friday morning in the first-degree murder trial of ex-Marine Cesar Laurean.

Court proceedings in the second day of the state's first-degree murder case against Cesar Laurean continued at 9:30 a.m. this morning when the state called Frank Davis, the vice president of Marine Federal Credit Union, to the witness stand.

Davis is a former Marine and an investigator whose duties at the bank include managing ATM security and investigating fraud. He explained to the jury how security video works at ATM machines.

In January of 2008, he was asked to assist the investigation of Lauterbach's ATM card usage by the Onslow County Sheriff's Office.

Davis told the jury he was asked specifically to review the usage from December of 2007. He found the card had been used five times.

The ATM records were then introduced into evidence.

Davis explained that with the information for the ATM records he can cross reference the time of the transactions to view the video of who was completing the transactions.

On Dec. 14 Lauterbach's card was used at 4:22 p.m. to withdrawal $700 from an ATM located in a shopping center approximately a mile from Camp Lejuene.

On Dec. 24 at 5 p.m. a withdrawal of $500 was attempted but refused because of a bad PIN number.

A second attempt was made 30 seconds later to withdraw $460 in funds, but was also refused because of a bad PIN number.

A third attempt was made for $500 with the correct pin number but was refused because of insufficient funds.

Moments later a fourth and final attempt to withdraw $400 was denied due to insufficient funds in the account.

Davis told the jury he pulled the security video from the times the transactions took place to view who was completing the withdrawals.

On Dec. 14 the video shows a white female, "pregnant with her hair pulled back," he said.

On Dec. 24 it was a male who "appeared to be trying to conceal himself," Davis said. He "covered the camera."

Davis saved the image of the man to his computer and burned a CD of the footage for authorities.

Davis then used a map to show the jury the location of the ATM used during the attempted Dec. 24 transactions. The state introduced into evidence photo stills from the ATMs security camera from Dec. 14 before showing them to Davis and then the jury.

Davis confirmed Dec. 14 photos appear to be of Lauterbach, a pregnant, white woman with her hair pulled back.

The state then introduced a second set of photos -- video stills from the ATM where the Dec. 24 withdrawals were attempted. The photos were shown to Davis and the jury.

The first photo shows a person approaching the ATM from the left -- the face is not visible. The second photo taken seconds later show the person closer to the ATM, but the face is still not clearly visible. The third photo is similar to the first two, but shows a portion of the subject's face. The fourth photo is a closer image of the third. The state then entered a fifth photo into evidence before showing the image, a photo of Laurean from bank records, to Davis.

The state asked Davis to compare the bank's database photo to the video still images from the ATM.

Davis showed the jury the photos side-by-side, pointing out a tattoo on the arm in one of the ATM stills, comparing it to the bank photo of Laurean.

Shortly thereafter the defense objected to the state's attempt to ask Davis whether or not he believed the person in the ATM stills to be Laurean. The jury was excused before the judge ruled that he would not allow the state to ask questions regarding Davis' opinion in whether or not the images were of Laurean. The jury was then returned to the box and testimony resumed.

Images of Laurean withdrawing funds from his account on Dec. 14 around 1:30 p.m. were then shown in the courtroom.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Dick McNeil discussed the ATM photos with Davis, asking him if he saw anyone else in the Dec. 14 photos. Davis stated he did not see anyone in the photos other than the pregnant woman.

McNeil then asked Davis to confirm the details of the four transactions attempted on Dec. 24. Davis explained that all four attempts to withdraw funds using Lauterbach's ATM card failed -- two because of incorrect PIN numbers and two due to insufficient funds. He then stepped down from the witness stand.

10:50 a.m.: State calls Malo Menard, Laurean's neighbor to the witness stand.

Menard told the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael Maultsby he didn't really know Laurean, but "had seen him around." He recalled in Dec. 2007 sections of the Laurean's fence were suddenly gone. He said he also remembered a "bonfire" near Christmas time and noted it was the first time he had seen a fire in Laurean's yard, he said.

Menard told the jury he saw a blue vehicle parked on the road during the bonfire. The state then showed Menard a photo of Lauterbach's car. When Maultsby asked if he was certain about the vehicle he said "I'm absolutely 100 percent."

He also said Laurean began tying his dog up out front during the same time period in December.

During cross-examination McNeil asked Menard what he knew about the Laureans' dog. Menard explained the family's dog was small and had lived inside the home from May of 2007 to early 2008. He also confirmed Laurean, his wife and daughter lived in the home.

McNeil asked Menard if he had seen the the blue car at the home before and Menard explained he had seen Lauterbach's car and Laurean's and Laurean's wife's car at the home at the same time during the bonfire. Menard said there were six or seven others around the fire, including Laurean. He then stepped down from the witness stand and court was recessed until 11:20 p.m.

11:21 a.m.: Court resumes as the state calls a second neighbor, Richard Alander, to testify.

Alander told the jury he remembers sections of the Laurean fence being missing that December and remembered the bonfire because, "My wife had been complaining of the smell."

When asked about seeing a blue car parked at the home during the bonfire, Alander confirmed he saw the car and positively identified the car as the one seen in a photo of Lauterbach's car displayed for him by assistant prosecutor Ernie Lee. He then told Lee the bonfire took place just before Christmas.

During cross-examination McNeil asked Alander to tell him how many people he believed were at the bonfire and Alander told McNeil the blue car was "parked out front by the mailbox."

The state then requestioned Alander, during which time he revealed he saw Laurean driving the blue car. Alander then stepped down from the witness stand.

11:35 a.m.: The state calls NCIS Special Agent Randy Dulay.

Dulay explained to jurors he analyzes the computer hard drives of government computers and that he was tasked with reviewing the activity on the computers assigned to Laurean and Lauterbach and Laurean's wife. Dulay stated he made copies of each computers hard drives.

Dulay explained that to access the computers, one needs a Department of Defense ID card and a PIN number and that because of those security features he can also be sure the information he was analyzing was Cesar's.

He explained that he examined the contents and looked through the documents, Internet activity and other general activity conducted by Laurean on the computer. The state then entered into evidence a list of websites Laurean viewed using the computer.

The list includes a Google search on Jan. 8, 2008, for "what happens in a homicide investigation" and a second search the same day for books about the same subject. The next two searches on the list were for diamond jewelry. There was also a search for a criminal defense attorney's website, followed by a Mapquest from the Laurean home to a Holiday Inn in Raleigh. Another page view was for shopping on Amazon.com and there was a Google search for employment opportunities in Vallarta, Mexico.

Dulay told the jury he also searched the contents of Lauterbach's computer but found nothing of relevance. He also did not find anything of relevance on Laurean's wife's computer, he said.

During cross-examination, McNeil asked the special agent about e-mails found on Lauterbach's computer and Dulay stated he found no e-mails between Lauterbach and Laurean. But Dulay also explained, "There is no way to tell once an e-mail is deleted."

McNeil also asked if it could be determined how much time was spent at each website. Dulay stated that information could not be determined.

Dulay then stepped down from the witness stand.

Noon: The state calls NCIS Special Agent Graham Grafton to the witness stand.

Special Agent Grafton seized Laurean's work computers and several items from Laurean's work station, including a note with names of criminal attorneys in the Jacksonville area on his desk. The state then entered photos of the work space into evidence and Grafton confirmed he recognized the space as Laurean's work station before describing the photos to the courtroom. The state also entered into evidence photos of evidence seized from the work station including the computer, the list of attorneys and a note that read "Arizona airport" and Grafton reviewed the photos before the state passed the photos amongst the jurors.

During cross examination McNeil brought to light the fact that Grafton's wife, who is also a special agent, was assigned to investigate the sexual assault charge against Laurean for NCIS. Grafton acknowledged he knew his wife was working on the case. He also explained some items from the work area were photographed, while others were seized.

When asked if he knew who wrote the notes on Laurean's desk, he said he did not. The witness then stepped down from the stand and court was recessed for lunch until 2 p.m.

2:00 p.m.: Court resumes with the state calling Marine Joel Larson.

Larsen, a chief warrant officer 2, was a supervisor of Laurean and frequently worked with him. Larsen described Laurean as his "lead guy."

He told the jurors he knew about Lauterbach's sexual assault charges against Laurean and had discussed the matter with him.

"I asked him pointed questions about whether there was a sexual relationship there," he said. Lauren said there was not.

After the rape charge was made, Lauterbach was moved across Lejuene from where Laurean worked.

"There was a military protection order in place" so they were supposed to avoid contact with one another, he explained.

On Dec. 14, 2007, the unit had a Christmas party. About 600-800 Marines were invited. Larsen described the event as "completely packed."

"It was Marines and their families and their children," he said. "It was understood that everyone was supposed to be there." But Larsen did not see Laurean there.

He later found out on Dec. 17 about the note Lauterbach left for her roommate Daniel Durham about leaving.

Laurean wanted to know, career-wise how this was going to effect his rape trial. "He was wondering how this would impact him," Larsen said.

On Dec. 27 Laurean told Larsen that after deserting the Marine Corps Lauterbach had sent him flowers.

"It was odd. Why would she send him flowers, especially to him?" Larsen said.

On Jan. 8, 2008, Larsen received a call from NCIS asking to interview Laurean, he said. After NCIS interviewed Laurean, Larsen walked back from the interview with him. Larsen said Laurean "asked a lot of questions" about Lauterbach and whether the rape charge would move forward if she never returned.

Larsen said Laurean wanted to deploy to Iraq, "This corporal was a stellar performer," he said. "It's unbelieveable... What went down."

Larsen testified that Laurean asked him why Lauterbach's mother was now in North Carolina. Larsen said he told him that Lauterbach's mother was trying to get in touch with her daughter.

Larsen told the jury he last saw Laurean on Jan. 10, 2008 around noon.

When asked about adultery in the Marine Corps, Larsen explained it is a punishable offense.

During cross-examination Larsen further explained that adultery, although punishable in the Marine Corps, is not a jail worthy offense. He told McNeil he didn't feel the rape case had lasted an unusually long period of time, explaining that the Marines "go as fast as time would allow" when investigating crimes.

McNeil asked Larsen if he knew Lauterbach well and he said he did not, but had discussed her performance with other Officers In Charge.

When McNeil asked Larsen if he knew of Lauterbach's reputation as "a discipline case" the state objected, prompting the jurors to be removed from the courtroom.

In the absence of the jury, Larsen told the court it was his opinion that Lauterbach "is not credible" and had a reputation as someone who "stretches the truth."

The judge then recessed court to meet with the attorneys in his chambers.

3:07 p.m.: Larsen returns to the witness stand and McNeil begins questioning him about Lauterbach's reputation.

Larsen said "She's not always truthful."

He explained that Laurean was told to stay away from Lauterbach and that had they been reported for being seen together, both could have been in trouble. Larsen said he never received any reports that the protection order was violated.

After cross-examination, the state redirected questioning to Larsen, asking him about his opinion of Laurean. He stated his opinion of him has changed.

Larsen then stepped down from the witness stand.

3:17 p.m.: The state calls retired Master Sgt. Mariane Pruneda to the witness stand.

Pruneda told the court that on Jan. 9, 2008 she told her Marines that CNN was reporting a missing Marine (Lauterbach) and asked her Marines if she knew anything about it. Shortly thereafter, Laurean's wife came to her crying.

"She was agitated. She was upset. She was crying."

On Jan. 11, 2008, Mrs. Laurean called Pruneda on the phone "hysterical."

"She was literally hysterical on the phone." Pruneda said.

She met Mrs. Laurean at the McDonalds outside the base gate and Pruneda drove her to an attorney's office. As Pruneda waited for Mrs. Laurean to finish with the attorneys, NCIS showed up and took Mrs. Laurean to the Onslow County Sheriff's office where she gave a statement. She then offered for Mrs. Laurean to come to her home and she did.

After a brief cross-examination, Pruneda stepped down from the witness stand. Court was then recessed until 3:45 p.m.

3:50: Court resumes when the state calls Mary Yordy, a Duke University librarian to the witness stand.

Yordy was walking her dog in Durham near the bus station and found a debit card on the ground, sticking out of the vegetation. She took the card the Durham police station. She said the name on it seemed familiar to her and when she presented it to the man at the desk "he immediately recognized the name." She told the police about how she had found the card. The card was then introduced into evidence as Lauterbach's card. When presented with the card Yordy confirmed it was the one she found while walking her dog.

There was no cross-examination and the witness stepped down from the stand.

3:55 p.m. The state calls Officer C.J. Wisnieski of the Durham Police Department to the witness stand.

Wisnieski was shown Lauterbach's card and confirmed it was the one he wrote up in his report and had turned over to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office.

There was no cross-examination and the witness stepped down.

4 p.m.: The state calls Wake County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel McLeod Jr. to the witness stand.

McLeod reported to a motel in Morrisville to look for Laurean's truck. He reported the truck's discovery to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office and secured the scene. The Onslow County Sheriff's Office arrived on several hours later. After the truck was towed from the scene he was relieved from duty but stayed to secure the dumpsters on site.

McLeod told the court it takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the bus station from the hotel where the truck was found.

There was no cross examination McLeod stepped down from the witness stand.

4:22: The state calls North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Agent Matthew Clifton

Special Agent Clifton examined a 2006 Hyundai Sonata on Jan. 8, 2008, collecting evidence from the vehicle. The state then presented several photos of the car to be viewed by Clifton and entered into evidence. At the time of the review of the vehicle the SBI was assisting the Onslow County Sheriff's Office with a missing persons investigation, Clifton said. The SBI was able to collect fingerprints from the vehicle while conducting their investigation. The agent found Lauterbach's Marine Corps ID cards and a certificate with Maria Lauterbach's name on it in the vehicle.

At 4:58 p.m. court was adjourned for the weekend and is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

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