JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – A grand jury indicted a Marine on a first-degree murder charge Thursday in the death of a pregnant colleague, but a prosecutor said he wouldn't seek the death penalty if the man is arrested in Mexico.
Authorities believe Cpl. Cesar Laurean has fled to his native Mexico, which refuses to send anyone back to the United States unless provided assurances they won't face the death penalty.
"The choices presented to me were either a possible life without parole sentence, or the defendant living in Mexico the rest of his life and never brought to trial," Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said.
The remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, were found with those of her fetus earlier this month in a fire pit in Laurean's back yard. Lauterbach, who had once accused Laurean of rape, had been missing since mid-December. Military investigators are still working to identify the father of Lauterbach's unborn child, Hudson said.
Before Laurean, 21, fled from Jacksonville in early January, he left a note for his wife, Christina, that said Lauterbach slit her own throat with a knife, and he then buried her in the woods near their home. Detectives have rejected that claim, and an autopsy found that Lauterbach died of blunt force trauma to the head.
But because authorities have determined that Lauterbach's child had not been born at the time of her death, Hudson said, prosecutors can only charge Laurean with one count of murder.
Hudson said the grand jury also charged Laurean with robbery with a dangerous weapon and a charge involving an unauthorized financial transaction involving card theft. The indictment states Laurean forced Lauterbach to remove money from her bank account Dec. 14, the same day authorities believe he killed her.
But because authorities have determined that Lauterbach's child had not been born at the time of her death, Hudson said, prosecutors could only charge Laurean with one count of murder.
Laurean is also accused of trying to use Lauterbach's ATM card on Christmas Eve, and was charged with attempted card fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses.
Hudson said authorities believe Laurean entered Mexico on a bus Jan. 14, two days after he left Jacksonville. Earlier this week, a man identified as his cousin said Laurean walked into his liquor store in Guadalajara last week, but left without saying where he was headed.
"Because of the all the attention, I hope (Mexican authorities) will move on this case very quickly," Hudson said.
Hudson said Thursday that Christina Laurean is still cooperating with investigators, and she does not face charges. She learned of Lauterbach's death roughly a day before Laurean's fled, but only then told police and turned over the note he left behind, according to court documents.
Authorities have previously said Lauterbach was killed on Dec. 15, citing the timeline provided by Laurean's wife. Hudson declined to address the discrepancy in detail, saying only that the "best evidence available" now indicates Lauterbach was killed Dec. 14.
Although Laurean refused to speak with detectives looking into Lauterbach's disappearance before he fled, authorities have said they didn't consider him a flight risk because they had information the pair had a "friendly relationship" even after she reported the rape allegation to military authorities.
Lauterbach, of the Dayton, Ohio area, had accused Laurean of rape in May, a charged he denied. Naval investigators have said they have no evidence to corroborate Lauterbach's claims, but Lauterbach and Laurean's regimental commander was intent on taking the case to a hearing that could have led to a trial.
Laurean had told members of his unit that he would flee to Mexico if it appeared he would be found guilty. Laurean, of Las Vegas, was born in Guadalajara. Family members there have said he moved to the U.S. more than 10 years ago.