Court of Appeals upholds conviction in Marine's murder

Former Marine Cesar Laurean, right, listens during his trial at the Wayne County Courthouse in Goldsboro, N.C., Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. Laurean faces charges of first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach of Vandalia, Ohio in 2007. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
May 1, 2012 7:50:40 AM PDT
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of ex-Marine Cesar Laurean.

Laurean was convicted in 2010 of first-degree murder in the 2007 death of his pregnant colleague 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who was found burned and buried in his backyard.

In an appeal filed by Laurean's defense lawyers, they said the judge in his trial should have had the jury to consider a second-degree murder charge and should not have excluded evidence of Lauterbach's behavior.

Lawyers said jurors should have heard that Lauterbach's accusation that Laurean raped her may have come because he disciplined her for mistakes.

Despite the appeal, the court found that such evidence was not relevant and was properly excluded, prompting them to uphold the ruling from the 2010 trial. The former Marine corporal was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Laurean and Lauterbach of Vandalia, Ohio, were assigned to the same logistics unit in December 2007 at Camp Lejeune, the base in Jacksonville that is home to about 50,000 Marines.

She had accused him of rape almost six months before her murder, an allegation that threatened to derail a military career that had earned Laurean promotions and praise.

The rape accusation never was corroborated, and a Marine buddy testified Laurean told him the sex was consensual.

Prosecutors had argued Laurean wanted to get rid of the woman because their encounter threatened to destroy his military career. Even if the sex was consensual, Laurean could have been punished because it is against Marine Corps rules to have sex with a subordinate.

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.

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, who was born in Guadalajara, to the U.S.

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