08/19/10 — Live from the courtroom: The defense rests, Laurean does not take the stand in his own defense

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Live from the courtroom: The defense rests, Laurean does not take the stand in his own defense

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 19, 2010 9:23 AM

News-Argus Video Report

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NCIS Special Agent Megan Grafton holds the crowbar entered into evidence by the state in the first-degree murder trial of ex-Marine Cesar Laurean Thursday during testimony.

9:33 a.m.: Court resumes with continued testimony for the defense's witnesses. Navy Commander Lynn Carlton, a nurse-midwife who is assigned to the OBGYN section of the Camp Lejeune hospital, is called to the stand. Lauterbach was Carlton's patient in the fall of 2007. She saw Lauterbach three times from September through Nov. 26, 2007. Carlton said her patient's last menstrual period was May 10, 2007, and that on Aug. 9, an ultrasound confirmed Lauterbach was 13 weeks pregnant. Carlton said the conception likely took place in the middle to end of May 2007, describing Lauterbach's  pregnancy as "routine."

During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee asked Carlton to confirm the last time she saw her patient. Carlton said she last saw Lauterbach in late November, explaining that she did not show up for her Dec. 27 appointment.

During redirection McNeil asked Carlton when Lauterbach's baby's due date was. Carlton said her estimated delivery date was Feb. 14, 2008.

McNeil showed Carlton a document indicating that Lauterbach had a scheduled mental health appointment that was to take place over the phone. The witness then stepped down from the stand.

9:42: The defense calls Carman Ortega, a former corporal in the Marine Corps, to the witness stand.

Ortega first met Lauterbach in November 2006 while stationed at Camp Lejeune. The women were a part of the same unit. Ortega was assigned to train Lauterbach. Laurean joined the same unit as the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge and was she told to "watch over" Lauterbach.

Ortega described the seven to 10 people in the unit as working closely together. 

In May 2007 she heard that Lauterbach had accused Laurean of rape. She said Lauterbach was then removed from the unit.

She described Laurean as "a very motivated Marine."

On Dec. 14 she attended the unit's Christmas party. She saw Lauterbach there from 6 to 6:30 p.m.

She told the defense she never saw Lauterbach and Laurean together after Lauterbach was reassigned.

McNeil then asked Ortega about Lauterbach's character. She said Lauterbach had a reputation "she was not truthful." Ortega confirmed she was aware of the military protective order that was in place.

During cross-examination, the state asked Ortega to confirm the last time she saw Lauterbach was Dec. 14, 2007.

9:57 a.m.: The jury is excused before the defense calls the next witness.

10 a.m.: The defense calls Chief Warrant Officer 3 Caroline Biers, a personnel officer for Lauterbach and Laurean's unit, to the stand.

Biers said the unit had collected money for Christmas decorations and it was told to her that Lauterbach took it.  Upon questioning her, Biers said Lauterbach admitted to taking the money and returned the funds.

"I told her, 'Marines don't lie, cheat and steal,'" Biers said.

Lauterbach told her she needed the money to visit her brother's grave-site and she had missed the funeral. She said her father accidentally killed the brother.

"I was concerned because she did not get to go to the funeral," Biers said, explaining that she called Mary Lauterbach who told her the brother was not dead, "that he was alive and well."

Biers said Mary then told her "had the tendency to create fantasies in her mind." 

"I was shocked. ... This was a pretty serious lie," Biers said.

After that phone call, Biers felt "(Lauterbach) needed to go to medical because this didn't seem like normal behavior to me."

She had also heard that Lauterbach's biological parents suffered from mental illness.

"I was hoping she could move on from the incident," Biers said. Lauterbach was "formally counseled" and was not recommended for promotion.

Biers then reviewed documents regarding Lauterbach's mental health counseling dated December 2006.

Biers said Lauterbach improved but in March 2007, she started having issues including habitual tardiness.

It was at that time that Laurean was told to watch over Lauterbach.

Biers said that in May 2007 the sexual assault allegation was made. She said prior to that allegation Lauterbach's performance was not great.

"She was at times distraught at work -- crying," Biers said.

She told Laurean, at one point, the next time she was late, she would be formally listed as "UA" -- Unauthorized absence.

Lauterbach told Biers her sister was pregnant and that her mother wanted her to give the child up for adoption. "She did not like that," Lauterbach said to Biers.

"When she made the allegation about Cpl. Laurean raping her, I did ask her if she stopped taking her medication." Biers said. Lauterbach said, 'Yes.'

"I asked her if the doctor told her to stop ... And she said, 'No.'"  The witness then stepped down.

The judge then heard arguments from the defense and prosecution so far as what parts of Biers testimony would be heard by the jury.

Smith said "Ms. Lauterbach is not a witness in this case."

McNeil argued that Lauterbach's integrity is an issue in the case because it lead to Laurean being tasked with counseling her. The state said the only part of the testimony that is relevant is who she is and how she knew the victim.

Smith decided that Biers may be asked about her training, longevity in the Marine Corps, how she knew defendant and victim and that she instructed Laurean to counsel Lauterbach, but that testimony regarding Lauterbach's alleged history of lying could not be used.

The jury was then returned to the courtroom.

Biers testified that in November 2006, she was Officer In Charge of Laurean and Lauterbach's 15-Marine unit. She said Laurean joined the unit in February 2007. And Lauterbach "checked in at the end of November" 2006.

She said part of Laurean's duties were to "counsel" Lauterbach because she had ordered him to do so.

Biers said she was aware of the rape allegation and that Lauterbach talked to her about it.

"The day she made the allegation" Lauterbach told Biers she wanted out of the Marine Corps.

After the allegation was made, Lauterbach was transferred to a different unit across Camp Lejeune. Biers told the jury she was aware of the military protective order.

She also explained that if a Marine was charged with adultery, it was a punishable defense.

When asked about the two Marines' character, Biers said Laurean was "mature" and an "outstanding performer" and Lauterbach was "not always truthful."

The witness then stepped down from the stand and court was recessed until 11 a.m.

11 a.m.: Court resumes with the defense calling NCIS Special Agent Megan Grafton.

Grafton in the family and sexual violence unit for NCIS.

In May of 2007 she was working on Camp Lejeune. On May 11, 2007, Lauterbach  alleged Laurean raped her. Grafton took a statement, which was signed on May 18. Lauterbach reported the alleged assaults took place in late March and early May of 2007.

Lauterbach reported her pregnancy on May 27, 2007.

Grafton said she was aware of the Military Protection Order preventing Laurean and Lauterbach from contact and explained that either party is obligated to report contact with the other individual. She never received any reports of the MPO being violated.

Grafton said the case remained open until January of 2008 and that no charges were ever filed against Laurean.

She said Lauterbach told her that her pregnancy was a result of the rape.

Grafton told McNeil she was aware of the paternity test which established Laurean was not the father of Lauterbach's baby.

She explained that NCIS interviewed "hundreds of people" during the rape and homicide investigation.

Grafton interviewed Pamela Chavis, who told her she had seen Laurean and Lauterbach together.

The special agent said when NCIS searched Lauterbach's residence they found no adoption paperwork nor did they find any baby gifts.

During cross-examination the state asked Grafton about her witness interview with Chavis. Grafton said Chavis told her she saw a "pregnant blonde female ...with a Hispanic male." Mrs. Chavis ultimately identified the two as Laurean and Lauterbach.

Grafton confirmed she escorted Daniel Durham from the Jacksonville airport where he was arriving from a flight from 29 Palms.

She went to the office of Paul Castle to pick up Christina Laurean and take her to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office. Grafton said she saw Mrs. Laurean in the lobby of the attorney's office.

"She was crying, very visibly upset," Grafton said.

Grafton was told Mrs. Laurean would be riding to the Sheriff's Office with her attorney.

Grafton said Mrs. Laurean was interviewed by investigators twice at the Sheriff's Office. She was asked about her willingness to allow the search of their residence and told authorities she would allow it.

Grafton asked her for information regarding her husband's whereabouts and about Lauterbach's disappearance. She interviewed Mrs. Laurean several times after that as well.

The jurors were excused from the courtroom when the defense objected to the state asking Grafton what kind of questions she asked Mrs. Laurean.

The state asserted the line of questioning has merit because it establishes Mrs. Laurean's level of cooperation with authorities.

Judge Smith said he would allow the state to ask some of its line of questioning.

The jury returned to the courtroom and Grafton explained she interviewed Mrs. Laurean several times after Jan. 11 through April 2008, approximately eight times.

Grafton said Mrs. Laurean cooperated.

An investigation was conducted to corroborate what Mrs. Laurean told authorities. Grafton said Mrs. Laurean gave authorities information that was passed on to those conducting the manhunt.

Grafton said that from December 2007 to January 2008, Laurean was scheduled to have a probable cause hearing involving the rape charge.

Grafton said that more than 30 NCIS agents worked on the homicide investigation, they interviewed everyone who worked with Laurean and Lauterbach.

The special agent said she was aware there was a Christmas party on Camp Lejeune on Dec. 14, 2007.

During redirection Grafton was asked if charges were ever filed during Christina Laurean. Grafton said they had not and said that Mrs. Laurean had a lawyer.

The witness then stepped down.

11:45 a.m.: The defense calls Onslow County Sheriff's Sgt. T.J. Cavanagh

Cavanagh told the jury he took on the case Jan. 7, 2008. There were 46 law enforcement officers were involved in the investigation.

He explained he obtained several search warrants during the investigation. There was a "very extensive amount of search warrants" obtained during the investigation.

Cavanagh had Laurean and Lauterbach's cell phone records and e-mails searched. Correspondence between the two was never found.

Cavanagh then explained the distance between Laurean and Lauterbach residences takes between 10 and 30 minutes to travel depending on traffic. The residence were approximately 8 to 12 miles apart.

Based on Cavanagh's investigation he determined Lauterbach purchased her bus ticket between 4:30 and 5 p.m. He confirmed the cell phone on the For Sale sign in her car was Lauterbach's cell phone.

Cavanagh also said Daniel Durham's computer was searched.

During cross-examination the state asked Cavanagh to show the court on a map where the bus station, day care and Laurean residence are located.

Cavanagh confirmed the time frame in which the bus ticket was purchased and told the court the ticket cost $180.90. Lauterbach had withdrawn $700 earlier that day.

Cavanagh told the state he shared information with authorities searching for Laurean in Mexico about Laurean's tattoos.

He told the court he spoke to Dennis Ward about the crowbar and who else may have touched the object. Ward said, "A lot of people" might have touched the crowbar. Cavanagh then stepped down from the witness stand.

Court was then recessed until 2 p.m.

When court resumed at 2 p.m. the defense rested its case after Laurean said he would not take the stand in his defense.

The jury was then excused from the courtroom while the court discussed several issues including the charges in the case.

Closing arguments will be heard Monday after which the jury will be instructed and will begin deliberation.

The defense sought the dismissal of all charges except first-degree murder.

Judge Smith denied the request, but the state dropped obtaining property by false pretenses.

Counsel then argued their points of view on whether or not the jury should be given the option of convicting Laurean of the lesser charge of second-degree murder should they choose to do so.

The defense said it should be an option because there is evidence of second-degree murder -- like the single blow to the victim's head. McNeil said even if the jury believes Laurean committed the crime, they should be given a choice between premeditated murder and second-degree.

Judge Smith said McNeil could address that with the jury during closing arguments and asked him to explain what evidence supports second-degree murder.

"Its not as black and white" as the state might contend, McNeil said.

Judge Smith said the injury was caused by such force that he finds the argument that it was not intended to kill her seems flawed. The judge explained that premeditation does not have to be a week, month or yearlong process.

The state contended that all the evidence does show premeditation - the burning, burial and the fact that he fled and the fact that he asked Marines "what would happen if she didn't return."

Judge Smith then denied the defendant's request and said the jury can either find him guilty or not guilt of first-degree murder.

The state will make two closing arguments in the case on Friday.

The prosecution argued to the judge that it would be unfair for McNeil to say to the jury, "Why did the state call his wife?"

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