08/20/10 — Defense rests

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Defense rests

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 20, 2010 1:46 PM

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NCIS Special Agent Megan Grafton holds the crowbar previously entered into evidence by the state in its first-degree murder case against ex-Marine Cesar Laurean during her testimony Thursday. Before handling the tool, Mrs. Grafton told the court Christina Laurean was about the same height as her but "much thinner."

His eyes focused on Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith, ex-Marine Cesar Laurean told those inside Courtroom No. 1 he would exercise his constitutional right to not testify in his own defense.

Moments later, his attorney, Dick McNeil, rested his client's case in the first-degree murder proceedings that have been unfolding since Aug. 9.

But several others did take the stand Thursday.

Like former Marine Carman Ortega, who told the court she was in the same unit as Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her alleged killer -- she characterized Laurean as "a very motivated Marine" and said the victim was "not truthful."

And Navy Cmdr. Lynn Carlton, a registered nurse and midwife assigned to the OBGYN section at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, testified, also.

She told the court Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach was one of her patients from September to November 2007 -- that Lauterbach's last menstrual period was documented as beginning May 10, 2007; that on Aug. 9, an ultrasound confirmed Ms. Lauterbach was 13 weeks and 1 day pregnant; that the conception likely took place in the middle to end of May.

But the witness perhaps most critical to the defense's claim that the victim had a less-than-glowing character, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Caroline Biers, only had a portion of her testimony heard by the jury.

Smith called for a "run through" of McNeil's examination of the officer before allowing it to unfold in front of those who, next week, will be charged with determining Laurean's fate.

And the judge would later rule that many of the questions McNeil asked her would not be allowed -- that they were inadmissible and irrelevant.

That portion of her testimony included Ms. Biers' characterization of Ms. Lauterbach as a troubled young woman with a history of lying and stealing -- on one occasion, she said, Ms. Lauterbach's unit had collected money for Christmas decorations and she stole it, later telling Biers she had done so to visit her brother's grave because she had missed the funeral.

"I was concerned because she did not get to go to the funeral," Ms. Biers said, adding that she called the victim's mother, Mary, to express those concerns.

But Mrs. Lauterbach told her daughter's Officer in Charge that the brother was not dead, "that he was alive and well," Ms. Biers said -- that the young Marine "had the tendency to create fantasies in her mind."

Then, Ms. Biers told the court she felt Ms. Lauterbach "needed to go to medical because this didn't seem like normal behavior."

The officer also said she told Laurean to watch over Ms. Lauterbach, but when, in May 2007, the sexual assault allegation was made, Ms. Lauterbach "was at times distraught at work -- crying," and was moved to another unit across Camp Lejeune.

When the jury was called back into the courtroom, they heard only that Ms. Biers was Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach's Officer in Charge -- that the victim "checked in" to the unit in November 2006.

And Ms. Biers was permitted to testify that part of Laurean's duties were to "counsel" Ms. Lauterbach -- that she was aware of the rape allegation and that Ms. Lauterbach had spoken to her about it

The officer also told the court that if a Marine was charged with adultery, it was a punishable offense, and when asked about the two Marines' character, Ms. Biers said Laurean was "mature" and an "outstanding performer" and Ms. Lauterbach was "not always truthful."

One of the last witnesses called by the defense was Special Agent Megan Grafton, an NCIS family and sexual violence investigator, who told the court she was working on Lejeune in May 2007 -- that on May 11 of that year, Ms. Lauterbach alleged Laurean raped her.

Mrs. Grafton testified she was aware of the Military Protection Order preventing Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach from contact, and explained that both parties are obligated to report contact with the other individual. She said she never received any reports of the MPO being violated.

During cross-examination, the state asked Mrs. Grafton about her interview with Base Exchange employee Pamela Chavis. Mrs. Chavis, she testified, told her she saw "a pregnant blonde female ... with a Hispanic male" around Christmas 2007 -- that she ultimately identified the two as Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach.

The agent then confirmed she was ordered to go to the office of Paul Castle to pick up the defendant's wife, Christina Laurean, one day to take her to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office -- that when she arrived, she saw Mrs. Laurean in the lobby of the attorney's office.

"She was crying," Mrs. Grafton said. "Very visibly upset."

Finally, the agent told the court she interviewed Mrs. Laurean approximately eight times from Jan. 11, 2007, to April 2008 -- that she cooperated and no charges related to Lauterbach's disappearance were ever filed against her.

Court will resume -- and closing arguments will be held -- Monday, as Smith said he wanted to ensure the jury did not begin its deliberation before weekend recess.