Cesar Laurean is charged with killing Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, and burning and burying her body in a fire pit in the backyard of his Jacksonville home in December 2007.
Lauterbach, who was nearly eight months pregnant at the time of her death, had accused Laurean of raping her in the spring of 2007. She later recanted the allegation, but the Marines continued to investigate the case until her death.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said in his opening statement that blood stains that matched Lauterbach’s DNA were found inside Laurean’s garage and on a crowbar he had given to a neighbor.
Two days after Lauterbach was last seen alive, Hudson told jurors, Laurean bought cinder blocks to build the backyard fire pit. He also used her bank card to withdraw money from an ATM, Hudson said.
After Lauterbach’s body was found, he said, Laurean was “nowhere to be found.”
Laurean fled Jacksonville hours before Lauterbach’s remains were discovered in January 2008. He left behind a note saying that she had killed herself and that he had buried her out of fear.
An autopsy determined that she was killed by a blow to the head and that a slash on her throat was superficial, Hudson said.
An international manhunt led to Laurean’s arrest in April 2008 in rural Mexico. In order to extradite him to North Carolina, Hudson promised Mexican authorities that he wouldn’t seek the death penalty against Laurean.
Defense attorney Dick McNeil told jurors in his opening statement that “life is not generally black and white” and said prosecutors wouldn’t be able to show any premeditation in Lauterbach’s slaying.
Lauterbach had a history of lying and theft, and her false rape accusation against Laurean threatened his military career, McNeil said.
“Her mental make-up led her to some fantasies,” McNeil said, adding that Lauterbach’s pregnancy left her under a great deal of stress.
He questioned why Lauterbach would have gone to the home of the man she accused of rape and suggested that she might have confronted Laurean’s wife, not Laurean.
Hudson objected to McNeil’s statements, but Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith said he would give McNeil some latitude to argue a lack of premeditation.
“We’re not trying at all to minimize her death, but it’s important for you to understand the circumstances,” McNeil told jurors.
Eleven witnesses testified Thursday, including Chip Coble, a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, who described for jurors in graphic detail how the remains of Lauterbach and her fetus were found buried about 20 inches below ground along with burned pieces of wood.