Jan. 24, 2008 -- 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.
Police discovered Lauterbach's remains after Laurean's wife, Christine, a former Marine, confided to authorities that she was dead and had been buried in their North Carolina backyard near the Camp Lejeune military base, where Lauterbach had previously worked below Laurean as a personnel clerk.
By that point, Laurean was already on the run.
Lauterbach was killed Dec. 15 by some type of blunt trauma to the head, the North Carolina state medical examiner determined. Last week, Onslow County Sheriff's Office authorities announced that a witness had turned in a weapon that may have been used in Lauterbach's death. Authorities would not confirm reports the suspected murder weapon was a crowbar.
Last weekend, authorities teamed up with the TV show "America's Most Wanted" and showed surveillance footage of Laurean and an unidentified man entering and exiting a Lowe's home improvement store once on Dec. 16 and again on Dec. 24. Lauterbach had been last seen Dec. 14 and was reported missing by her family in her home state of Ohio Dec. 19. In his shopping trips, Laurean purchased a wheelbarrow, paint and concrete blocks like the ones used to ring the fire pit. Another image shows Laurean using Lauterbach's card at an ATM machine Dec. 24.
Capt. Rick Sutherland told ABC News that authorities have interviewed the friend seen in the Lowe's videotape three times, and that he is considered a "cooperating witness."
Police believe Lauterbach was murdered in the home's garage, "based on the blood and the interpretation of the blood spatters" on the walls. Authorities released photos showing an area in the garage where work had apparently been done to cover up the crime scene.
Christine Laurean, the fugitive's wife and a former Marine, continues to be considered a cooperating witness, despite waiting almost a day before notifying authorities about Lauterbach's death. After Laurean fled, Christine Laurean handed over notes left by her husband in which he claimed that Lauterbach had slit her own throat before he burned and buried her body.
Physical evidence suggests that Lauterbach was planning to leave Jacksonville on her own. She had withdrawn $700 from her bank account and packed personal belongings before leaving her roommate a note that read, "I could not take this Marine Corps life anymore. So I am going away."
Questions have also been raised about the status of the military's rape investigation and whether military investigators believed that the rape allegations from March and April may be unfounded. Marine Corps officials had said that Lauterbach told investigators in November that she no longer believed that Laurean was the father of the unborn child.
Laurean had been Lauterbach's senior officer until she accused him of raping her. He was never taken into custody because he denied the charge and there was no evidence to support the accusation, Marine Corps officials said last week.
The Marines first began searching for Lauterbach, Dec. 17, after she failed to show up for her job as a military personnel clerk.
Mary Lauterbach, Maria's mother, has made comments that raised doubts about her daughter's credibility. In one example, she had to prove to Marines at Camp Lejeune that a story Maria Lauterbach had shared with fellow Marines about her father accidentally killing her brother when he was 6 years old was a lie.
When the Onslow County Sheriff's Office asked Mary Lauterbach to write an e-mail telling investigators everything she could about her daughter, she admitted that her daughter "had problems with occasional compulsive lying" and that Maria Lauterbach's biological father may have suffered from bipolar disorder.