For two-and-a-half years, the image of Cesar Laurean has been a nearly constant presence in the lives of Maria Lauterbach’s family in Vandalia. But her mother, Mary Lauterbach, has never seen him face to face – until this week, when he’s scheduled to stand trial for murdering his 20-year-old fellow Marine and burying her body in the fire pit in his back yard.
“Cesar Laurean has been an image on a TV screen,” said the Lauterbach family’s attorney, Merle Wilberding. “Now Mary will be coming face to face with someone who’s accused of murdering her daughter.”
It isn’t known whether Laurean will take the stand. Onslow County district attorney Dewey Hudson will serve as prosecutor for the trial which will be in Goldsboro, N.C., 70 miles northwest of Jacksonville. The courts granted Laurean’s defense team a change of venue because of the intense publicity surrounding the case.
Laurean’s wife, Christina, is not expected to testify. The day of her husband’s disappearance – Jan. 11, 2008 – she delivered a note to authorities in which Laurean wrote that Maria had committed suicide and that he disposed of her body in a wooded area near his home. “Indications are that she’s claiming her privilege not to testify against her husband,” Wilberding said.
Under North Carolina law, Laurean can’t be prosecuted for the murder of Lauterbach’s unborn child. “He’s being charged with the fraudulent use of Maria’s ATM card, but not with the murder of my grandson,” Lauterbach said. “He’s the one who gets lost in all of this.”
Whether he testifies or not, facing her daughter’s accused killer in the courtroom will be one of the most painful duties Lauterbach has undertaken since her daughter’s murder. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner calls her “a tireless advocate to strengthen our national policies regarding sexual assault in the military.” In February she and Wilberding went to Washington, D.C., and lobbied more than a dozen members of the House of Representatives in hopes of changing the way the U.S. military handles sexual assault cases. Their efforts appear to have made an impact on the National Defense Authorization Act passed May 28 by the House and heading for the Senate in the fall.
While stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C., Maria Lauterbach formally reported the sexual assault case as well as two other incidents — being punched in the dark by an unknown assailant and her car being keyed. Yet it would be weeks after her disappearance before authorities looked seriously at Laurean — and by that time he had fled to Mexico, prompting an international manhunt that ended in his capture April 10, 2008.
“This trial is of special interest to our community,” Turner said. “Our troops must have confidence they are safe among their own ranks. Maria Lauterbach’s life was placed at risk when the Marines failed to adequately respond to her allegations of rape. Our service members who are victims of sexual assault deserve protection. I will continue to push for an independent investigation seeking better ways to protect victims of sexual assault.”
Lauterbach praised Turner’s continued interest in the case:”I’m shocked at how much has occurred due to Mike Turner. He has been very proactive in pushing the issue forward and not letting it die.”
Wilberding is confident that Lauterbach will be as powerful and credible a witness inside the courtroom as she has been in the press and in the halls of Congress. A national reporter once told him, “She couldn’t lie if she wanted to.”
Noted Wilberding, “Mary has been the voice of Maria, pleading and praying for changes. We don’t want this tragedy to be a total waste of a human life. Mary is very strong and she’s very committed to this.”