08/18/10 — The state rests its case in Laurean trial

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The state rests its case in Laurean trial

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 18, 2010 9:25 AM
Last update on: August 18, 2010 11:23 AM

News-Argus Video Report

9:30 a.m.: Court resumes.

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

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

On April 9, 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. First the group went to a small town to locate the pay phone from which Laurean contacted his family. The group also located a cyber cafe they believed Laurean had used and established surveillance at the location.

The group decided to become more aggressive in its search for Laurean the next day asking owners of the nearby shops if they had seen Laurean.

They were then informed he was in one of the small hill towns and had visited with a village elder.

The group later witnessed Laurean walk by the surveillance area. "At first we weren't sure it was him," King said.

"He was a lot thinner ... had a beard, a baseball cap," he said. As Laurean neared the lawmen they took off running after him.

Laurean was apprehended moments later.

"He lifted up his shirt sleeve and there was the tattoo," King 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?"

King 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.

King then confirmed a photo taken from a Mexican police station was Laurean.

King 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, King accompanied Laurean to Miami where he was turned over to FBI and state of North Carolina lawmen.

During cross-examination, King confirmed for McNeil that he received information about Laurean via phone calls and the Internet. The witness then stepped down.

Shortly thereafter, the jury was dismissed from the courtroom while the state's witness, Dr. Thomas B. Clark III of the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's photo selections for testimony were reviewed by the defense because the selection of photos to be used during his testimony was not complete until this morning.

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." 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 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 father of Maria Lauterbach's child."

Court then recessed until 2 p.m.

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