Cpl. Cesar Laurean's fugitive status didn't stop a North Carolina grand jury from indicting him today on a first degree murder charge in the death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, a pregnant Marine who had accused him of rape.
The grand jury also indicted Laurean on armed robbery, theft and fraud charges, Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson announced this morning.
The charred remains of Lauterbach, 20, and her unborn child were found buried in a fire pit in Laurean's backyard Saturday, Jan. 12., police say.
Lauterbach has apparently been on the run since the murder, and authorities say he may have fled to his native Mexico.
Hudson said that he has filed the necessary paperwork with the Department of Justice for Laurean's arrest and extradition to the United States if authorities find him in Mexico. As part of that deal, Hudson said he had to "take off the table" the option to seek the death penalty if Laurean is convicted. "Mexico would not arrest or allow extradition of Mr. Laurean to the United States unless they were assured the death penalty would not be imposed," he said.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Laurean would face life in prison without parole. But Hudson added that if Laurean is ultimately arrested in a country other then Mexico, the death penalty option could be revisited.
Hudson also announced today preliminary results of a military autopsy conducted in Dover, Del., which follows up on an autopsy already completed by the state. The new tests confirm reports that Lauterbach's child was not born before Lauterbach's death Dec. 15. That determination, under North Carolina state law, prevents Hudson from pursuing an additional murder indictment. "The unborn child of Maria Lauterbach was, in fact, unborn," Hudson said.
Authorities hope the federal autopsy will determine who fathered Lauterbach's unborn child. Before her disappearance and death, Lauterbach said that she believed Laurean was the father but later recanted that claim.
Hudson, who did not rule out seeking additional indictments in the case, declined to comment on the ongoing manhunt for Laurean, which for now is focused on Mexico and is being overseen by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals. He did say that he had no information that contradicts reports that place the fugitive in Mexico, the country where he was born.
A relative of Laurean's, a naturalized American citizen born in Mexico, told ABC News Wednesday that Laurean had come through his Guadalajara liquor store sometime last week. Laurean allegedly spent about 15 minutes with his relative, while two "friends" stood outside, Juan Antonio Ramos Ramirez, 31, told ABC News.
Ramirez claimed he did not know at the time that Laurean was the target of a massive manhunt.
Sources familiar with the manhunt, which the FBI is heading, told ABC News that Laurean, 21, crossed the border by bus after starting out in Raleigh, N.C., and making a transfer in Houston for a Mexico-bound bus. The bus driver told authorities that Laurean was using the alias Armando Ramirez.
Laurean, who may have retained his Mexican citizenship after becoming a U.S. citizen, had reportedly told fellow Marines in his unit that he would run to Mexico if he were found guilty by the military of raping Lauterbach.