08/13/10 — Witnesses take stand in Cesar Laurean trial

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Witnesses take stand in Cesar Laurean trial

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 13, 2010 1:46 PM

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Cesar Laurean looks back toward his family and the courtroom audience during opening statements of his first-degree murder trial Thursday. Laurean is accused of the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who was found buried in the backyard of his Jacksonville home. The trial was moved from Onslow to Wayne County because of pretrial publicity.

Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson wanted the jury to see the crime scene -- the "shallow grave" from which the remains of United States Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn baby were excavated Jan. 12, 2008.

So during the opening statement he delivered just before 10 Thursday morning inside the Wayne County Courthouse, the prosecutor, in a way, took them there.

He told the court what crime scene investigators found in the backyard belonging to alleged first-degree murderer Cesar Laurean.

And he told them that evidence would prove the pregnant Marine died from a "blunt force injury to the left side of her head," and that her blood was found in Laurean's garage.

Then he moved to the defendant's flight -- how the state intends to prove that Laurean used Ms. Lauterbach's ATM card, deserted from the Marine Corps and "hid" in Mexico until he was apprehended April 10, 2008, when, as Hudson put it, his "luck ran out."

Defense attorney Dick McNeil, however, said there is much more to the story than what people might see on the surface, that life "isn't always black and white."

"This will be a very emotional trial. Nobody in this courtroom can feel anything but sympathy for the victims in this case," he said during his opening argument. "But that's only part of the story."

The other part, he argued, involves an emotionally unstable woman with a dark side and a man he characterized as "a good Marine, an NCO, a supervisor."

McNeil then told the jury Ms. Lauterbach had, in fact, joined the Marine Corps before she was ready to handle it -- that she had a history of depression and a tendency to lie.

And he told them the defense would prove Ms. Lauterbach was distraught about her pregnancy, that she falsely accused Laurean of rape and fathering her unborn child -- how one day she decided to desert from the Marine Corps, left her roommate a note describing her intentions and bought a bus ticket to Texas.

"So something triggered this young lady to be emotionally upset, perhaps unstable," he said.

And those factors, McNeil said, will ultimately make it impossible for reasonable doubt not to come into play.

"You will have reasonable doubt," he told the jury.

The state called several witnesses after opening arguments were heard inside Courtroom No. 1 -- an SBI agent who helped search Laurean's home and excavate Lauterbach's remains, several Marines, a childcare facility employee, a Greyhound bus station manager and the man who claims to have found Lauterbach's cell phone days after she went missing.

More detail on their testimony is available in this edition of the News-Argus.

Court was scheduled to resume at 9:30 this morning, with additional witnesses for the prosecution expected to be called to testify.

For up-to-the-minute coverage of today's action, follow www.NewsArgus.com and see Sunday's News-Argus.