Internet searches, ATM, fire focus of testimony
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 15, 2010 1:50 AM
NCIS Special Agent Randy Dulay prepares to testify in the case against ex-Marine Cesar Laurean. Dulay examined the computer equipment used by the murder suspect.
Prosecutors zeroed in on several Internet searches, four failed ATM withdrawal attempts and a "bonfire" Friday, as the state continued to unwrap its first-degree murder case against Cesar Laurean.
But the ex-Marine's defense team seemed more interested in painting the victim, Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, as a woman with credibility issues than in refuting the testimony given by Laurean's former neighbors, his Officer In Charge and the man responsible for investigating fraud for Marine Federal Credit Union.
The prosecution called its first witness of the day, Marine Federal vice president Frank Davis, just after 9:30 a.m. And when he was questioned about his investigation into the December 2007 usage of Ms. Lauterbach's ATM card, Davis turned his focus to five particular times the card was scanned.
Davis testified that on Dec. 14 of that year, a pregnant white female withdrew $700 using Ms. Lauterbach's card -- prosecutors contend it was Ms. Lauterbach.
But on Dec. 21, four unsuccessful attempts to withdraw funds were documented by the bank -- two denied due to use of an incorrect PIN number and the other two -- the correct PIN was used -- were canceled due to insufficient funds in the account.
Prosecutors then introduced several photographs into evidence, images pulled from video footage captured by the ATM.
The Dec. 24 images, Davis told, and later showed, the court, depicted a white male who "appeared to be trying to conceal himself," while using the card, he said.
"He covered the camera," Davis said.
But the camera was still able to capture several images of the man prosecutors contend is Laurean -- Defense attorney Dick McNeil objected when the state asked Davis to compare the photos to one of the defendant and Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith dismissed the jury before telling prosecutors they were capable of making their own comparisons.
The next two witnesses were Laurean's neighbors. First, Malo Menard testified that in December 2007, he noticed sections of the Laurean's fence were suddenly gone -- that his neighbor lit a "bonfire" in his back yard around Christmas.
Richard Alander then said he, too, remembers the missing fence and, particularly, the fire. "My wife had been complaining about the smell," he said. "I told her he was probably burning trash."
Both men also told the court they saw a blue car parked in front of the defendant's home around the day of the fire -- when shown a photograph of Ms. Lauterbach's car, both men confirmed it was the blue Hyundai they saw.
During cross-examination, McNeil asked both men how many times they had seen the blue car parked outside his client's home, and each said more than once. And when the defense asked about the bonfire, the men said several people, including Laurean, were standing near it.
The state then called NCIS Special Agent Randy Dulay, who was charged in January 2008 with analyzing government-owned computers issued to Laurean, his wife and Lauterbach.
He testified that after reviewing the Web activity and documents on thecomputers, he found several items of interest on the one signed on to by the defendant.
Weeks after Ms. Lauterbach went missing, Laurean conducted several Google searches, Dulay told the court -- one for "what happens in a homicide investigation" and another for criminal defense attorneys in the Jacksonville area.
And he also conducted a Mapquest search for directions from his home just outside Camp Lejeune to a Holiday Inn in Raleigh and performed a Google search for employment opportunities in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
During cross-examination, McNeil asked Dulay if he had found any e-mails sent between Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach on the computers. Dulay testified he had not, but 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 Web site and Dulay said it would be difficult to know for sure.
Toward the end of a lengthy day of testimony, Marine Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joel Larsen took the stand.
Larsen was Laurean's Officer in Charge in 2007 and told the court he was aware of Ms. Lauterbach's sexual assault charge against Laurean and had discussed the matter with his Marine.
"I asked him pointed questions about whether there was a sexual relationship there," he said.
Laurean, however, denied any contact.
Larsen then testified that after the rape charge was made, Ms. Lauterbach was moved across Camp Lejeune from where Laurean worked.
"There was a military protection order in place," Larsen said.
And he told the court Laurean did not show up at a Dec. 14, 2007, Christmas party everyone under his command was aware they were supposed to attend.
Three days later, Larsen found out that Lauterbach had allegedly deserted from the Marine Corps.
And when he discussed the matter with Laurean, "he wanted to know career-wise" how Lauterbach's disappearance would effect his rape trial, he told the court.
But he also characterized the defendant as a "stellar performer," and, during cross-examination, commented on Lauterbach's reputation as someon who is "not always truthful" after being asked his opinion by McNeil.
When Day Five of the trial was recessed, SBI Special Agent Matthew Clifton was still on the stand.
His testimony is scheduled to resume Monday at 9:30 a.m., after which, the state is expected to call additional witnesses.