08/23/10 — Live from the courtroom: Jurors receive instructions before beginning deliberations

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Live from the courtroom: Jurors receive instructions before beginning deliberations

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 23, 2010 9:00 AM

News-Argus Video Report

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Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee holds the crowbar while talking to the jury during his closing statement.

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Dick McNeil talks to the jury during the defense's closing argument about why the state has not proven Laurean has committed first-degree murder.

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District Attorney Dewey Hudson speaks to the jury during his closing arugment in the first-degree murder trial of ex-Marine Cesar Laurean.

When court resumed this morning jurors were prepared to hear closing arguments from Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee, followed by Nick McNeil and concluding with a second closing argument from the state from District Attorney Dewey Hudson.

Before closing arguments began, McNeil asked the judge to reconsider allowing the jury to consider second-degree murder in the case. Judge W. Osmond Smith denied the defense's request for a second time.

Closing argument begins with Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee begins by telling the story of Maria Lauterbach's mother had her last conversation with her daughter on Dec. 14, 2007.

Lee talked about Mary receiving the phone call from her daughter's roommate Daniel Durham.

"As concern moves to worry Mary Lauterbach does not know where her daughter," Lee said.

"She is living now her parents worst nightmare. She does not know where he child is."

During Christmas and New Years Mary does not know what has happened to Maria.

She learned the "horrible truth" on Jan. 11, 2008.

"What happened to her daughter? ... Her daughter was not killed in a foreign land," Lee said. "Her daughter was found in the backyard of a fellow Marine."

Laurean was being investigated for rape. And then, Lauterbach got pregnant.

Lee said there was substantial evidence of motive Laurean worried about his career "now, the issue of adultery" came into play about the possibility of his adultery messing up his career he could not move forward with his career dreams "as long as Maria Lauterbach was out there"

"The evidence you have heard ... Proves beyond a reasonable doubt ... That this defendant is guilty of first-degree murder" He is going through what maria did Dec 14 2007 The atm withdrawal, the purchase of a bus ticket, "She is going to be leaving the next day."

Sometime after 4:30, Durham returned home and found the note.

Dec. 16, 2007, Laurean and Dennis Ward go to Lowe's.

"This defendant isn't interested in a barbecue this defendant is interested in covering up the murder of Maria Lauterbach in his back yard."

The defendant then offered him a crowbar, Lee said.

The defendant then attempts to withdrawal funds from Maria's bank account, Lee said.

Furthermore the defendant leaves the area. ...We find his truck near RDU in Raleigh Durham. Her card is then found in Durham near the bus station.

Mid to late December what do we know? The defendant is driving the victim's car. After murdering her he decides to drive her car around Jacksonville North Carolina. He's keeping this car moving around Jacksonville, it's like a facade that this victim is still alive.

Lee told the jury the car was being moved around the bus station parking lot by the defendant.

Lee said Lauterbach bought her ticket to Mexico and she was planning to leave. She asked if she could leave her car at the bus station.

The state contends that the defendant lured his garage under the pretense of looking at baby clothes to take with her to Mexico and it was while she was looking at baby clothes that he struck her with the crowbar. The defendant decided that he would handle the situation permanently, ensuring she wouldn't come back to haunt him, Lee said.

Lee then discussed Kristina Laurean and why she was not the murderer.

He also discussed the evidence.

You may recall the raft was folded up, Lee told the jury. "If it was folded at the time this happened why would there be blood on the inside?" Lee asked.

You may also recall that there was paint found just beside where the blood was found, he said.

"The defense would submit to you that the defendant had attempted to cover up the murder that happened in his garage."

She is found outside of that garage in a fire pit ... there is evidence of severe blunt force trauma. She also suffered from a knife-like wound, Lee said. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, this is an injury caused by a blunt force object such as a crowbar.

He did strike her with this, her blood was found on this item.

Lee reminded the jury that no conclusion could be reached regarding the DNA on the handle belonging in part to Kristina Laurean.

The judge is going to instruct you about the law on this.

The state must prove five things: the defendant with intent to kill maliciously killed the victim, the defendant's action is the cause of the victim's death, the defendant intended to kill the victim, the defendant acted after pre-meditation, however short, defendant acted with deliberation -- this does not mean this did not mean there was not emotion.

This was a premeditated murder, Lee said.

The conduct of the defendant before during and after the killing, the use of force during the killing, unseemly conduct, as well as concealment of a body are evidence of first-degree murder, Lee explained.

Not only did he slit her throat, not only does he strike her with a crowbar, he puts her in the back yard and burns her.

Lee then talked about the other charges in the case including the use of Lauterbach's property.

The defendant had the motive and means to murder Maria Lauterbach. He enticed her to attempt to go to Mexico he enticed her to his garage, he kept up his whole facade of her being alive, Lee said.

The chain or group of circumstances indicate the defendant is guilty of first-degree murder.

He has a motive -- he is concerned about his career.

He's driving her car, he's researching Mexico, her body is found in his back yard, her blood is found in his garage.

The defense has made much about the truthfulness of Maria Lauterbach. The issue is not whether she was a stellar or even solid Marine, the issue is whether or not Cesar Laurean is the murderer of Maria Lauterbach, Lee said.

Little did she know that even though she was going away, she didn't know she was going away at that time.

She being with child was going to a dark cold grave in the dirt back yard of Cesar Laurean.

The defendant is the one that struck her with that object. ... The defendant is the one who built and then placed her body in that fire pit.

He had the opportunity, the motive and the plan to kill this victim and he did.

The defendant did all these things not because I say so ... but the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant is guilty ...

We request that you find the defendant guilty of call charges.

Defense attorney Dick McNeil:

McNeil opened by talking to the jury about their role in this trial.

"You will be making decisions that will remain with you for the rest of your lives," he said. We all feel sincere sympathy for the victim's family in this case. ... We also have another family in this courtroom, needless to say they are deeply concerned.

The questions I asked about her or the testimony I brought about, I was in not way attempting to be disrespectful for her.

As you finally make your decision in this case, we ask you to set your emotions aside, McNeil said.

The state has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cesar Laurean committed first-degree murder.

Many pieces of this puzzle that are left unexplained. We ask you to use common sense, he said.

To convict Cesar Laurean of first-degree murder you must first prove he struck the blow against Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and that he killed her with malice.

In the fall of 2006 Cesar Laurean was a Marine at Camp Lejeune, he had a stellar record, he was placed in charged of fellow Marines.

In the fall of 2006 Lance Cpl. Lauterbach joined Camp Lejeune as her first duty station. In the winter of 2007 he became her supervisor.

In the spring of 2007 she told NCIS she was sexually assaulted by Laurean, a month after the assault took place.

As a result a military protective order was issued. There was no evidence the order was ever broken.

A month later Lauterbach told NCIS she was pregnant.

The Marine Corps for seven months had an open investigation but Cesar Laurean was never charged.

The records were clear, the conception date would have been the end of May 2007, not March or April alleged by Lauterbach.

What's important about that is that she must have known she was not telling the truth about Laurean being the father of that child.

One of the many unknowns in the case is "Why did she make that allegation?"

That's what's important because that is what set this case, these incidents into motion.

The state has two inconsistent theories regarding her behavior toward Laurean. One is that there was some on-going relationship between the two. Sometimes people may believe something that's not true, but they're not necessarily lying. We believe that the witnesses are incorrect that they saw these people together. It's hard to imagine they would be together in one of the most public places on base, McNeil said. If they had been seen by any one they both or one of them would have violated the protective order.

These people's cell phones and computers were looked at and there was not one piece of evidence the two had been in communication, McNeil said.

McNeil then refuted the testimony about Laurean's plan to send Lauterbach to Mexico by a fellow Marine.

The defense then discussed the difference in between how other Marines perceived Maria's state of mind and how her mother perceived her emotional state on the day of her disappearance.

The state wants you to believe there's only one person that could have struck Maria Lauterbach.

Do you really think that a young wife with a child would not be upset about rape allegations? The state wants you to believe that a female Marine couldn't pick it up and in a state of rage swing it. This country sends thousands of young women to war. She had her own attorney.

For some strange reason the state never sent the DNA belonging to the wife of the defendant to the lab until July 2010. There was no conclusion as to whether Christina Laurean's DNA was present on the handle. But the results could not exclude her. The results excluded Cesar Laurean.

The state indicated that the wife has cooperated and there have been no charges brought forth. Only 19 days before this trial does the state learn she cannot be excluded from the trial.

We know she got money out of the ATM at 4:22 p.m. and then went to the bus station where she buys a ticket. One Marine has testified that she saw Lauterbach at the Christmas party at between 6 and 7 p.m. The wife was picking up their child shortly before 6 p.m.

Who did Lauterbach confront at the residence at 103 Meadow Trial?

You must decide if he is the only person who could have struck that fatal blow.

And if he was, you must consider if it was premeditated.

McNeil then purported the defense's interpretation of premeditated murder.

McNeil asked the jury to ask themselves, "Why now?" "Why at his home?" and "Why did she come to his house? What did she want, why was she there? ... Who did she confront?" he asked.

The defense then contended that the state didn't prove its charge of felony robbery with a deadly weapon because there is no evidence that she was threatened with her life for her bank card.

"When it comes to first-degree murder the state has limited your options," McNeil said.

The state wants you to believe Cesar Laurean lured her there McNeil said. She went to his house, what happened?

The state has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty of either charge and we ask you to find him not guilty on both aspects, he concluded.

Dewey Hudson, District Attorney, closing argument:

Maria Lauterbach would love to tell you what happened on Dec. 14, 2007. But unfortunately she can't. Because Cesar Laurean took this crowbar and smashed her head in killing her and her unborn baby.

The baby would be two years old. She would love to be here with her family, but she can't.

Great Marine? Maybe one day. On Jan. 11, 2008, was he a great Marine when he deserted his country at a time of war? He abandoned his family, he deserted his wife, his child, his Marine Corps, his country.

Two significant days had occurred at his home Dec. 14, 2007 and Jan. 11, 2008.

A murder case is like a jigsaw puzzle, you have all these pieces. And you as the jury have to put all the pieces together. There's only one way to put those pieces together.

What happened on Jan. 11 to make him desert his country and hide like a rat?

to run to her command and then go to a lawyers office and then to the Sheriff's Office and tells him something that leads to his home, his back yard that leaves to he gravesite of Maria Lauterbach. The same time he's fleaing to Mexico.

Honey I love you a lot, I want you to explain the woman's body in our card.

He struck her in the head, a pregnant woman, in the head with a crowbar.

On the 11th of January his wife goes to the authorities and he fleas.

Luck runs out for him on April 10, 2008.

The defense would like you to consider Christina Laurean could have committed this crime, Hudson said.

"Wow we never thought of that, give us a break, it's her back yard too." The reason she's never been charged is because we cannot find evidence that she did anything.

Circumstantial evidence is like strands in a rope, one strand you can break but when you put all these pieces together you have a strong rope that doesn't break.

A red herring is a very salty smelly fish that hunters use to train their dogs. They drag the fish across the path to see if their dogs will follow it. He wants you to chase his red herring that follows the path that leads to the truth.

You hear one witness testify that she saw Maria at the party. She is either lying or is mistaken.

If you're Maria Lauterbach and have left a note saying you've had enough of the Marine Corps would you then go to your unit Christmas party?

You've heard no evidence from any other witness other than her out of several hundred Marines.

I don't want you to go back there and debate about the rape, he's in a pickle regardless of whatever happened. He tells them its consensual he's then into the adultery situation so he has to deny it to command.

He convinces he to go UA and it almost worked but something happened to that plan and then he used a second plan. That body is hidden for two days there until he decides he needs to burn and bury her. Why doesn't he just dump her body somewhere? Because he's scared, he's paranoid that NCIS is looking at him.

Maria would love to be here to tell you what happened that day, but she can't, Hudson said.

Hudson then showed the jury photos from the autopsy.

At the conclusion of his remarks the court was adjourned until 1:15 p.m.

When court resumed Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith instructed the jury on their responsibility in deciding the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges against him.

At 1:44 p.m. the jury retired to the jury room to first select a foreperson and then to deliberate once the charge verdict forms are handed to the jury.

At 1:47 p.m. the jury was eligible to receive the verdict forms and deliberation likely began shortly there after.