Fugitive Marine Captured in Mexico

Cpl. Cesar Laurean faces murder charge in the death of a pregnant fellow Marine.

ByABC News
April 11, 2008, 1:42 AM

April 11, 2008 — -- North Carolina law enforcement officials took pains Friday to publicly applaud the work of Mexican law enforcement officials in the capture of fugitive Marine Cesar Armando Laurean and to reassure that nation that he would be treated fairly if and when he is extradited to the United States.

"While Laurean's crime was horrible -- to say the least -- Cesar Laurean is not an animal,'' Onslow County, N.C., Sheriff Ed Brown said at a Friday afternoon press conference. "He's a human, and he's not a trophy. Laurean, when he comes back to the sheriff's office, will be treated just as any other inmate; he is not a high-profile inmate. He will be just like any other inmate housed in this Onslow County jail."

Laurean has been on the lam since January, after investigators said they found the charred remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn baby buried in Laurean's backyard. Lauterbach, who was eight months pregnant, disappeared in December 2007. The discovery of her remains prompted authorities to file murder charges against Laurean.

Laurean had been Lauterbach's senior officer at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina until she accused him of raping her. The Marines have said Laurean was never taken into custody because he had denied the charge and there was no evidence to support the accusation.

Death Penalty Still Off the Table

Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson reiterated his promise to Mexican officials that he would not seek the death penalty if a jury convicted Laurean of murder.

Referring to a decades-old treaty with Mexico that precludes officials there from turning over fugitives who would face capital punishment to U.S. authorities, Hudson said at the press conference that his office had reluctantly but firmly agreed to those conditions.

Hudson said his office had "reviewed'' the treaty "very carefully'' and had come to the "inescapable conclusion'' that the agreement was airtight. "Depending on whether or not Cesar Laurean waives extradition, this process could take a few days or up to a couple years to occur."

Dewey said he'll work closely with the U.S. Justice Dept. to "facilitate Laurean's expeditions return to Jacksonville for trial." If convicted, Laurean would face a sentence of life in prison.

Laurean's arrest Thursday brought to close a massive three-month international manhunt.

North Carolina law enforcement officials indicated that U.S. authorities had been hot on Laurean's heels for some time.

"In the last couple of weeks, we developed specific information, and through a coordinated effort with the FBI, NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] and this office, began to narrow down and focus the area where we suspected that Cesar Laurean was," Capt. Rick Sutherland of the Onslow County Sheriff's Office said.

Sutherland noted that the investigators were able to "narrow our focus" in the search for Laurean after they analyzed and substantiated information they received over the past couple of weeks that Laurean "was reaching out and attempting to communicate with family members and persons located in this county."

Amid questions about any cooperation Laurean's wife might have provided, Sutherland said that "a number of questions have been raised about Christina Laurean ... and our office has continued to repeat the fact that she was a cooperating witness with this investigation. That status has not changed."

Pressed for further information on any investigation into Christina Laurean's activities, Hudson said, "Let me just say this -- from all the evidence I reviewed, I feel confident saying that she is torn. She's torn between what occurred and her love for her husband."

But authorities did say they don't believe she helped him while he was on the run.

"Cesar Laurean repeatedly asked for resources from family members, and those family members denied those resources, specifically Christina denied those" requests, Sutherland said.

Magdalena Guzman, a spokeswoman for the Michoacan, Mexico, state prosecutor's office, said Thursday that Laurean told arresting authorities that he had only about 10 pesos -- roughly $1 -- when he was captured, supporting the notion that Laurean's family had cut him off.

Christina Laurean has remained silent on the events surrounding her husband's investigation. Christopher Welch, her attorney, explained that silence Friday, noting that she is also a Marine, and that the Corps has prohibited her from speaking out about the case.

During the course of the investigation, authorities said Christina Laurean, the mother of Cesar Laurean's toddler, handed over notes left by her husband in which he allegedly claimed that Lauterbach had slit her own throat before he burned and buried her body.

Sutherland added that if new information was developed that required new arrest warrants in the case, they would be issued.

A senior law enforcement official told ABC News that Mexican authorities arrested Laurean, 21, Thursday evening in a town in the Mexican state of Michoacan, after he was spotted on the street.

Mexican police on an anti-kidnapping operation reportedly spotted Laurean wandering the street and became suspicious when they realized he didn't speak Spanish very well. He was taken into custody and later identified in part by his extensive tattoos, The Associated Press reported.

"He was walking down the street. He did not resist," said FBI spokeswoman Amy Thoreson. "We had FBI agents, NCIS agents as well as the Mexican authorities [there] at the time."

The AP briefly interviewed Laurean Thursday night at the Michoacan state attorney general's office in that state's capital city of Morelia. The reporter noted that a shackled Laurean teared up at times and appeared slightly disoriented. "You know my name. You know who I am," the news service quoted a bearded Laurean as saying.

Chained at the wrists and ankles, Laurean stared straight ahead as he answered a series of questions from an AP reporter. Asked whether he had anything he wanted to say, Laurean reportedly replied, "Proof." Asked what he would do next, he asked "Do I have a choice? I don't know."

Antonio Garza, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, confirmed in a statement that authorities had arrested Laurean in the town of Tacambaro, also in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

In addition to the murder charges authorities in Onslow County, N.C., filed against Laurean the day after they say they recovered Lauterbach's remains, federal officials charged Laurean with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and issued an additional warrant for his arrest.