Closing arguments are set to be heard today in the murder trial of a former Camp Lejeune Marine accused of killing and burying a pregnant colleague in 2007.
Prosecutors called 22 witnesses and the defense called six people to the stand in the second week of the first-degree murder trial of Cesar Laurean, 23, who stands accused in the bludgeoning death of 20-year-old Maria Lauterbach. The state put on 22 witnesses in the first week testimony.
Forensics experts, crime scene investigators, detectives, friends and a grieving mother, among others, testified last week through Thursday in Wayne County Courtroom No. 1, where the proceedings have been moved due to pretrial publicity in Jacksonville.
N.C. Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith gave the jury Friday off so they could hear closing arguments, be charged and deliberate without a weekend’s interruption.
Smith ruled jurors will have two options when deliberating: not guilty and guilty of first-degree murder which carries a mandatory sentence in North Carolina of life in prison without parole. The jury could also be unable to reach a verdict.
Between the defense evoking the spousal privilege law and her attorney, Jacksonville lawyer Chris Welch, successfully quashing a state witness subpoena, Christina Laurean, the defendant’s wife, did not testify.
The testimony of a state investigator who said Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown muddled the crime scene where Lauterbach was buried in a shallow grave opened the second week. Under cross-examination, SBI Special Agent Matt Clifton said Brown walking around the backyard of 103 Meadow Trail while using a divining rod made it impossible to collect shoe impressions.
Day No. 3 Testimony
Special Agent Steve Combs, SBI, testified to finding a large amount of “what appeared to be blood” on the walls of the garage and on items inside, including a pillow and a child’s pool raft.
Noel Strawn, a local businessman, testified he saw Laurean and Lauterbach together twice at his drycleaners near the main gate of Camp Lejeune in September 2007.
Deputy Linwood Foy, OCSD, testified he worked for Lowe’s security in December 2007. He said he turned over to authorities surveillance footage of Laurean shopping at Lowe’s in late December 2007.
Dennis Ward, former Marine, testified to shopping with Laurean for cinderblocks, paint and a wheelbarrow at Lowe’s Home Improvement. He said he showed Laurean how to build a firepit in his backyard. He said he believed the crowbar Laurean gave him Dec. 16, 2007, was the murder weapon.
Samantha Ward, as corroborative witness to her husband’s testimony, said Dennis called her Dec. 16, 2008, while he was shopping at Lowe’s with Laurean. She said she went with her husband to give the crowbar to the authorities.
Sgt. David South, OCSD; testified he received the crowbar Jan. 12, 2008, from Dennis and Samantha Ward.
Bill Meredith, a crime scene investigator with the OCSD; testified to transporting evidence to the crime lab in Raleigh and picking up Lauterbach’s ATM card in Durham.
Jim Mahaffee, a former evidence control supervisor with the SBI; Sara Clay, an evidence technician with the SBI; Capt. John Lewis, OCSD; Frankie Davis, SBI; and Sgt. Mike Washington, OCSD; all testified to the proper handling, transport and delivery of evidence in the case.
Day No. 4 Testimony
Capt. Donnie Worrell, OCSD, testified he took evidence from the crime scene, including one of Lauterbach’s femur bones and the crowbar, to the SBI’s crime lab in Raleigh.
Alice Green-Guy, an evidence technician with the SBI, testified as to the chain of custody of physical evidence in the case.
Sgt. TJ Cavanagh, OCSD, as the lead detective in the case, testified to finding a Lowe’s receipt in Lauren’s home with purchases for a dozen concrete blocks and a wheelbarrow dated Dec. 16, 2007.
Capt. Patrick Garvey, OCSD, testified he kept all the evidence at the Sheriff’s Department after it was returned from the crime lab.
James Faggart, a fingerprint expert with the SBI, testified that he obtained no usable prints from Lauterbach’s car or bank card.
Jenny Elwell, a body fluid expert with the SBI, testified that the reddish-brown stain on the crowbar was blood. She also confirmed that blood was found on pillows and painting supplies taken from the garage.
Sharon Hinton, a DNA analyst with the SBI, testified that Lauterbach’s blood DNA was found on items in the garage and on the crowbar. She said Laurean’s DNA was not found in the garage or on the crowbar.
Mary Lauterbach, homicide victim Maria Lauterbach’s mother testified she last heard from her daughter at around 2:30 p.m. Dec. 14, 2007, when they had decided to talk more about Maria giving her unborn child up for adoption. Under cross-examination, she downplayed statements she had made that her daughter was bi-polar and a compulsive liar.
Day No. 5 Testimony
Special Agent Steve Kling, FBI, testified to capturing Laurean in Mexico. He said he spotted Laurean, with a beard and wearing a ball cap, walking toward him in a small town. Mexican authorities grabbed Laurean and lifted up his sleeve to reveal his phoenix tattoo. Laurean tried to deny his identity in Spanish.
“Cesar, tattoos don’t lie, you’re caught,” Kling said he told Laurean.
Dr. Thomas Clark, the state medical examiner who performed Lauterbach’s autopsy, testified she died of a fractured skull. He said Lauterbach lived a few minutes after the blow that cracked her skull, but most likely lost consciousness almost immediately.
The state rested and the defense called six witnesses, two Wednesday and four Thursday.
Marine Cpls. Viviana Martinez and Tania Robles testified to knowing Lauterbach at Camp Lejeune. They said they had never seen Laurean and Lauterbach together, and that Lauterbach had a reputation for being untruthful.
Day No. 6 Testimony
Navy Cdr. Lynn Carlton, Lauterbach’s OB/GYN, testified Laurean had a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy contrary to what Lauterbach had told family before her death.
Marine Cpl. Carmen Ortega testified that Lauterbach had a reputation for being untruthful.
Chief Warrant Officer Carolina Bier testified that Lauterbach had stolen cash, lied to get out of trouble and was known for making up fantasies. Most of her testimony was ruled inadmissible and the jury did not hear it.
Megan Grafton, an agent with Naval Criminal Investigative Service, testified about Lauterbach’s rape allegations against Laurean. Under cross-examination by Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Maultsby, Grafton said she was the same approximate height and weight as Christina Laurean and showed the jury the 12-pound crowbar could be unwieldy.
Cavanagh, called to the stand again, testified that Lauterbach’s missing person bulletin said Lauterbach suffered from mental illness and was possibly bi-polar.