GOLDSBORO, N.C. — A former Marine was convicted Monday of murder in the death of a pregnant colleague who accused him of rape, an allegation that threatened to derail a military career that had earned him promotions and praise.
Cesar Laurean, 23, of Las Vegas was found guilty of killing Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, in December 2007. The two were assigned to the same logistics unit at Camp Lejeune, the base in Jacksonville that is home to 50,000 Marines. The trial was moved because of extensive pretrial publicity.
The former Marine corporal was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder.
The victim’s mother, Mary Lauterbach, read a tearful statement before the judge imposed the sentence. She told Laurean to remember the pain in his mother’s face, and to think of the daughter who will have to live with the shame of a father who is a killer.
"Now you will have time to think about your shame, time to think about your failures," Mary Lauterbach said. "There are many people out there who will die today, people who would love to have the time that God has given you."
One juror said the panel didn’t believe the theory presented by defense lawyer Dick McNeil that someone else, perhaps Laurean’s enraged wife, could have killed Lauterbach with a single swing of a crowbar that fractured the victim’s skull. The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for three hours Monday before convicting Laurean.
"The thought entered our minds, but everything pointed to the fact that he is the one who did this crime," juror Brenda Peters said. "We went back over every speck of evidence that there was, piece by piece. That’s how we reached our verdict."
Neither Laurean nor his wife testified during the trial.
Laurean’s father, Salvador, and sister, Blanca, said they wished more testimony would have explained the problems the ex-Marine had with Lauterbach, whom the higher-ranking Laurean was ordered by superiors to help shape up.
"He’s a nice, nice guy," Blanca Laurean said. "He doesn’t deserve everyone thinking he’s the worst man in the world. He’s not."
McNeil told the court Laurean would appeal his conviction.
Laurean also faced three other charges of robbing Lauterbach of her bank ATM card, and of theft and attempted fraud for allegedly trying to use it to withdraw cash. He was found not guilty of the robbery charge, but Laurean was convicted on the fraud and theft charges.
Lauterbach’s rape accusation never was corroborated, but a Marine buddy testified Laurean told him the sex was consensual. A DNA test would prove later that Laurean was not the father of Lauterbach’s child. She was seven months pregnant when she died.
Even if the rape accusation was false, the married father of a young child faced having his career derailed for committing adultery with a subordinate, District Attorney Dewey Hudson said. Laurean had faced an order to stay away from Lauterbach, and his Marine superiors said a hearing on the rape allegation was approaching.
"He was a married man. He was her boss. He had sex with her," Hudson told jurors in his closing argument. "He’s damned if he does or damned if he don’t."
Laurean, who was born in Mexico, fled his home and was on the run until police arrested him in April 2009 in the Mexican municipality of Tacambaro. Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty so Mexican authorities would return Laurean.