08/20/10 — The witnesses

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The witnesses

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

Defense Witness No. 3 -- Navy Cmdr. Lynn Carlton: A registered nurse and midwife assigned to the OBGYN section at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, Ms. Carlton told the court Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach was one of her patients from September to the end of November 2007. She testified that Ms. Lauterbach's last menstrual period was documented as beginning May 10, 2007, and 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. Ms. Carlton described Ms. Lauterbach's pregnancy as "routine." During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee asked the nurse to confirm the last time she saw Ms. Lauterbach. Ms. Carlton responded it was during an appointment in late November 2007, explaining that she did not show up for her Dec. 27 appointment. The defense redirected and Ms. Carlton testified Ms. Lauterbach's estimated due date was Feb. 14, 2008. Defense attorney Dick McNeil then showed the nurse a document indicating that Ms. Lauterbach had a scheduled mental health appointment that was to take place over the phone.

Defense Witness No. 4 -- Carman Ortega: A former Marine, Ms. Ortega told the court she first met Ms. Lauterbach in November 2006 while stationed at Camp Lejeune -- the two were in the same unit. She testified she was told by her Officer in Charge to train the victim, to "watch over" her. She then said that in May 2007, she heard that Ms. Lauterbach had accused ex-Marine Cesar Laurean of rape, and testified Ms. Lauterbach was removed from the unit and assigned to one several miles across Lejeune. Ms. Ortega described Laurean as "a very motivated Marine." And she told the court the last time she saw Ms. Lauterbach was at a Dec. 14, 2007, Christmas party. McNeil then turned his focus to the victim's character, prompting Ms. Ortega to characterize Ms. Lauterbach as "not truthful." During cross-examination, the state asked Ms. Ortega to confirm the last time she saw Ms. Lauterbach was Dec. 14, 2007.

Defense Witness No. 5 -- Chief Warrant Officer 3 Caroline Biers: Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach's Officer in Charge, Ms. Biers took the stand in the absence of the jury, to allow Superior Court W. Osmond Smith to hear a "run through" of the testimony. Smith would later rule that many of the questions McNeil asked her would not be allowed in front of the jury -- that they were inadmissible and irrelevant. Among those things in her preliminary testimony the judge ruled the jury would not hear were stories that spoke to the image the defense painted of Ms. Lauterbach: a troubled young woman with a tendency to lie and steal. Ms. Biers said on one occasion, her unit had collected money for Christmas decorations and it was told to her that Ms. Lauterbach took it. Upon questioning the victim, Ms. Biers said Ms. Lauterbach admitted to taking the money and returned the funds. "I told her, 'Marines don't lie, cheat and steal,'" Ms. Biers said. Ms. Lauterbach responded, Ms. Biers continued, by telling her OIC she needed the money to visit her brother's gravesite because she had missed the funeral. "I was concerned because she did not get to go to the funeral," Ms. Biers said, explaining that she called the Marine's mother, Mary Lauterbach, who told her the brother was not dead, "that he was alive and well." Ms. Biers said Mrs. Lauterbach then told her that her daughter "had the tendency to create fantasies in her mind." After that, Ms. Biers told the court, she felt Ms. Lauterbach "needed to go to medical because this didn't seem like normal behavior." She also had heard that the Marine's biological parents suffered from mental illness. "I was hoping she could move on from the incident," Ms. Biers said. After the incident, Ms. Lauterbach was "formally counseled" and was not recommended for promotion. And in March 2007, Ms. Biers told Laurean to watch over the young Marine. Ms. Biers then said that in May 2007, the sexual assault allegation was made, and that around that time, Ms. Lauterbach "was at times distraught at work -- crying." "When she made the allegation about Cpl. Laurean raping her, I did ask her if she stopped taking her medication." Ms. Biers said. "She said, 'Yes.' I asked her if the doctor told her to stop ... And she said, 'No.'" The jury, though, heard only that Ms. Biers was Laurean and Lauterbach's Officer in Charge -- that the victim "checked in" to the unit in November 2006. And she acknowledged part of Laurean's duties were to "counsel" Ms. Lauterbach. She testified she was aware of the rape allegation and that Ms. Lauterbach had spoken to her about it -- that "the day she made the allegation," Ms. Lauterbach told Ms. Biers she wanted out of the Marine Corps. Ms. Biers then said Ms. Lauterbach was transferred to a different unit across Lejeune, due to the Military Protective Order that had been put in place. She also told the court that if a Marine was charged with adultery, it was a punishable defense, and when asked about the two Marines' character, Biers said Laurean was "mature" and an "outstanding performer" and Ms. Lauterbach was "not always truthful."

Defense Witness No. 6 -- Special Agent Megan Grafton: An NCIS family and sexual violence investigator, Mrs. Grafton told the court she was working on Lejeune in May 2007 -- that on May 11 of that year, Ms. Lauterbach alleged Laurean raped her. She testified she took a statement from the victim, one that was signed by Ms. Lauterbach a week later. The victim, she then told the court, reported the alleged assaults took place in late March and early May 2007, and reported her pregnancy to the agent May 27 of that year. Mrs. Grafton said 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 never received any reports of the MPO being violated. Mrs. Grafton then told the court the case remained open until January 2008 and that no charges were ever filed against Laurean. She then testified she was made aware of the paternity test which established Laurean was not the father of Ms. Lauterbach's baby. And she also told the court that during a search of the home Ms. Lauterbach lived in with previous witness Daniel Durham, no adoption paperwork or baby gifts were found. 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. Mrs. Grafton then confirmed she was ordered to go to the office of Paul Castle to pick up Christina Laurean one day and 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." The jury was excused from the courtroom when the defense objected to the state asking Grafton what kind of questions she asked Mrs. Laurean that day and later in the investigation of Ms. Lauterbach's disappearance. The state asserted the line of questioning had merit because it established Mrs. Laurean's level of cooperation with authorities. Smith said he would allow the state to ask some of its questions and when the jury returned to the courtroom, Mrs. Grafton testified she interviewed Mrs. Laurean approximately eight times from Jan. 11, 2007, to April 2008 -- that Mrs. Laurean cooperated. Mrs. Grafton then told the court Laurean was scheduled to have a probable cause hearing involving the rape charge against him sometime between December 2007 and January 2008. And she also said no charges were ever filed against Mrs. Laurean in the Lauterbach case.

Defense Witness No. 7 -- Onslow County Sheriff's Sgt. T.J. Cavanagh: The lead investigator on the Laurean murder case, Cavanagh told the court he took on the case Jan. 7, 2008 -- that approximately 46 law enforcement officers were involved in the investigation. He testified he obtained a "very extensive amount of search warrants" during the investigation and that among those places and items searched were Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach's cell phone and e-mail records. Correspondence between the two was never found. Cavanagh then told the court the travel time between Laurean and Ms. Lauterbach residences is between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on traffic -- that the homes were roughly 8 to 12 miles apart. And he said Lauterbach purchased her bus ticket to El Paso, Texas, between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Dec. 14. During cross-examination the state asked Cavanagh to show the court, using a Google map, where the bus station, Laurean residence and day care Laurean's child attended are located. Finally, the lawman said he interviewed former Marine Dennis Ward about the crowbar he testified Laurean gave him. Ward, he said, told him "a lot of people" might have touched the tool.