Doctor: Skull fracture killed Marine


GOLDSBORO, N.C. -- A skull fracture killed a pregnant Marine whose colleague is on trial for her slaying, the doctor who performed the autopsy told a jury Wednesday.

Dr. Thomas B. Clark from the state medical examiner's office testified as the prosecution presented its final day of evidence in the first-degree murder case against 23-year-old Cesar Laurean of Las Vegas.

He is accused of killing Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, who months earlier had accused Laurean of rape, and burning her body in a fire pit in the backyard of his home in December 2007. He has pleaded not guilty.

Lauterbach and Cesar Laurean were personnel clerks together in a combat logistics regiment at Camp Lejeune. Lauterbach was about eight months pregnant when she died. Lauterbach told Navy investigators that Laurean raped her in 2007, though she later recanted her claim that he impregnated her. DNA tests revealed that Laurean wasn't the father.

Clark told the jury that Lauterbach died of "blunt force injury to the head," contradicting a claim by Laurean that his fellow Marine had cut her own throat.

Clark said the head injury could have been caused by a crowbar that prosecutors argue is the murder weapon. He said Lauterbach probably lived a few minutes after the blow, but lost consciousness and brain function immediately.

During his testimony, Clark showed the jury pictures of the body. One juror on the front row lowered her eyes when Clark showed a picture of Lauterbach's badly burned legs. Clark told the jury they could not determine Lauterbach's true height because of the burns.

During a brief cross-examination by defense attorney Dick McNeil, Clark said he could not determine when exactly Lauterbach was killed. He said there was a period of at least two weeks in December 2007 when the death could have occurred. The defense said in their opening statement that the prosecution did not know when Lauterbach was killed.

Prosecutors rested their case after Clark's testimony and the defense was to begin presenting in the afternoon.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Steve Kling, who led the team of FBI and Mexican police that captured Laurean on April 10, 2008, was the first witness Wednesday morning.

Laurean was on the run when Lauterbach's remains were discovered, leading authorities on an international manhunt. He was arrested in western Mexico and extradited last year.

Kling told jurors he and the Mexican police set up surveillance on an Internet cafe they knew Laurean was using to communicate with his family. As they waited to talk with a local town official, they saw Laurean walking down the street. Kling said they waited for him to pass and then ran up behind him. Two Mexican police officers were coming down the street in a car and stopped in front of Laurean. A Mexican police officer grabbed him and lifted up his sleeve to see if he had a tattoo of a "phoenix." Kling said Laurean kept asking in Spanish what was going on, but when police saw the tattoo Kling knew it was him.

"Cesar, you're tattoo doesn't lie. You're caught," Kling said he told Laurean in Mexico.

 

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