08/18/10 — Live from the courtroom: Defense begins questioning its witnesses in Laurean trial

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Live from the courtroom: Defense begins questioning its witnesses in Laurean trial

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 18, 2010 9:25 AM

News-Argus Video Report

9:30 a.m.: Court resumes.

9:37 a.m.: The state calls Steve Kling, an FBI special agent assigned to find Laurean in Mexico.

Kling explained that while in Mexico tracking Laurean down he did not have the power to arrest the suspect, but worked with Mexican authorities to apprehend him.

On April 9, 2008, he met with Mexican officials, who provided him with six officers to help him "look in the hills" for Laurean in a location about 10 hours from the U.S.-Mexico border. The group initially went to a small town to locate the pay phone from which Laurean contacted his family, and then, a cyber cafe also believed to have been used by the fugitive. They eventually set up surveillance at the cyber cafe, where they stayed until about 9:30 p.m.

The next day, after several NCIS agents had joined the team, the group decided to become "more aggressive" in its search for Laurean and started asking owners of the nearby shops if they had seen him.

They were then informed he was in one of the small towns nearby, so they went there and tried to meet with the "village elder."

As they waited, they saw Laurean walk by the surveillance area. "At first we weren't sure it was him," Kling said. "He was a lot thinner ... had a beard, a baseball cap."

But when he got closer, they were sure it was him and took took off running after him.

Laurean was apprehended moments later.

"He lifted up his shirt sleeve and there was the tattoo," Kling said. "A very distinct phoenix tattoo."

Laurean was talking in Spanish when he was apprehended, saying things like "What's going on?" "What's happening?"

Kling then told Laurean "Cesar your tattoo doesn't lie. You're caught."

Laurean was then taken by the FBI agent, the NCIS and the Mexican authorities to Mexico City to await extradition proceedings.

Kling then confirmed a photo taken from a Mexican police station that prosecutors showed him was Laurean.

Kling said the day Laurean was caught he "had a beard, mustache, his hair was longer and he was a lot thinner."

About a year later, Kling accompanied Laurean to Miami where he was turned over to FBI and state of North Carolina lawmen.

During cross-examination, Kling confirmed for McNeil that he received information about Laurean's location by using analysis of phone calls and the Internet. The witness then stepped down.

Shortly thereafter, the jury was dismissed from the courtroom while the next state's witness, Dr. Thomas B. Clark III of the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, made photo selections for testimony and they were reviewed by the defense -- the doctor did not know until this morning what photos he would use during his testimony.

The defense is now reviewing the photographs.

As the doctor selected the photographs pertinent to his testimony, Mary Lauterbach broke down, becoming intensely emotional.

When the defense objected to entering the photographs into evidence, Judge W. Osmond Smith overruled the objection, saying he believed all the photos selected to be relevant.

"The fact that they are gruesome, does not make them inadmissible," he said.

The state then began the questioning on the medical examiner upon the return of the jury to the courtroom.

Dr. Clark told the jury, "An autopsy is an examination of a body following death" and said he performed the Lauterbach autopsy at UNC-CH.

"We were left with a charred body that was also decomposed," he said.

Dr. Clark also said they were presented with a fetal hand, a piece of skull bone and a dirt/bone fragment mix for examination.

He then described the injuries he found on the body.

"The injuries include a complex skull fracture on the side of the head."

Upon finding the injuries, photos were taken and diagrams made, he said.

"On the left side of the neck, there was a superficial ... wound" he believed was made by a knife or knife-like object, about 4 inches in length. They removed the top part of head and were able to see the base of skull. There was a fracture on the base of the skull.

"Death was a result of blunt force injury to the head," Dr. Clark said. "A blunt force is one that is made by a heavy object that does not have a sharp edge."

Dr. Clark said it was  "very unlikely" a blow from a fist could have caused that injury. District Attorney Dewey Hudson then showed Dr. Clark the crowbar and he reacted by saying, "I believe this object could have caused the injuries I saw," he said.

Clark then used various photos to show the body how the body of Maria Lauterbach looked when the examiners office received it for autopsy.

Dr. Clark then discussed in greater detail the skull fracture he witnessed. He said the blow was rectangular in nature. I think that all of the injuries I've seen could have been caused by a single blow from a heavy object.

"The heavy object itself would have been in contact with the left side of the head and been able to produce the fracture and would have put lateral force on the skull ... It would have happened at the same time with the same blow," he said.

Do you have an opinion how long she lived after receiving this blow?" Hudson asked.

"She would have lost consciousness immediately after the blow," Dr. Clark said. He added that it would have been a matter of a few minutes at the most that she had a heart beat or brain activity.

During cross-examination, McNeil asked Dr. Clark about the process of documenting his findings. McNeil then asked if the death could have occurred on several other dates. Dr. Clark said it could have and explained that because of the cold temperatures of December, "a body that is refrigerated, doesn't change very much over time."

The witness then stepped down from the witness stand.

The photos from Dr. Clark's testimony were then provided to the jury.

10:55 a.m.: The state rests its case against Laurean. Court was then recessed for the jury until 2 p.m. and until 11:15 a.m. for the remainder of the court.

11:17 a.m.: When court resumed, the Defense asked the court to remove three of the charges against the defendant, including the robbery with a dangerous weapon charge.

The court denied the removal of those charges.

McNeil then asked the court to read a statement to the jury at some point during his case. The judge agreed to read a statement to the jury, telling them that "based on DNA testing the defendant can be excluded from being the biological father of Maria Lauterbach's child."

Court then recessed until 2 p.m.

2 p.m.: Court resumed with the Judge reading the jury a statement explaining that the state and the defense agreed to the following facts:

On April 20, 2009, DNA samples were seized from Laurean and used for a paternity test. Cesar is not the father of the unborn child.

2:05 p.m.: The defense calls Cpl. Vivian Martinez to the stand.

Cpl. Martinez told the court she has been station at Camp Lejeune since 2007. She was Lauterbachs roommate for four or five months before Lauterbach moved off base after finding out she was pregnant.

Cpl. Martinez said Lauterbach told her she was unsure whether to keep the baby and that she believed Laurean was the father of the child. She then testified said she never saw the two together -- she saw Lauterbach "just about every day" while they were roommates. The state did not question Cpl. Martinez who then stepped down from the witness stand.

2:10 p.m.: The defense calls Cpl. Taina Robles.

Cpl. Nobles met Lauterbach at bootcamp and was also stationed a Lejeune.  Robles said Lauterbach told her that her mother, Mary, was against her keeping the child.

She saw Lauterbach on Dec. 14 and described her to the court as seeming "distraught and upset."

Cpl. Robles said she knew about the rape allegation and then told the court Lauterbach was arguing about her decision to keep the baby with her mother.

She, too, said she never saw Lauterbach and Laurean together and, later, described Lauterbach as a "habitual liar."

The witness then stepped down from the stand.

Court was then recessed until 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

For the latest from the courtroom log on to www.NewsArgus.com throughout the day.