DAYTON, Ohio – A lawmaker chided the Marine Corps on Thursday for what he called a lack of urgency in investigating rape allegations made by a pregnant Marine against a colleague later accused in her slaying, and experts called for greater protection of such victims.
Rep. Michael Turner, who submitted questions to the Marines on behalf of the woman's Ohio family, said the corps took seven months to investigate Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach's allegation that she was raped by Cpl. Cesar Laurean and that it resulted in little action. Laurean is charged in Lauterbach's death, and investigators believe he fled to his native Mexico.
"The actions taken by the Marine Corps to protect Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach were totally inadequate," said Turner, a Republican whose district includes the Lauterbach's home in Vandalia.
The charred remains of Lauterbach and her fetus were found buried in Laurean's backyard in North Carolina in January.
Lt. Gen. R.S. Kramlich, director of the Marine Corps staff, said in a letter released Wednesday in response to Turner's questions that the Marines took appropriate steps to fully investigate the sexual assault allegations.
Kramlich said Lauterbach had told investigators she did not feel Laurean posed a danger or threat to her.
A message seeking comment from Lauterbach's mother, Mary Lauterbach, was left at her home.
The Lauterbach case follows a pattern, Anita Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Miles Foundation, a private group that works with victims of crimes in the military, said Thursday.
"Some of the common threads include failure to protect the victim adequately, the victim remaining in the same vicinity as the alleged assailant," Sanchez said.
Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said rape allegations must be taken seriously and investigated quickly or future victims could be discouraged from reporting them. And he said victims should not be prevented from transferring away from a military base where an attack occurred.
"It makes them relive it every day and fear for their safety every day," he said.
Kramlich said Lauterbach was assigned to a different work area, two miles away from where Laurean worked. And he said Lauterbach did not request a transfer to another base.
After Lauterbach tested positive for pregnancy, investigators decided to postpone taking a sample of the child's DNA until its birth due to the invasiveness of the procedure, Kramlich said. A sample of Laurean's DNA wasn't taken because Lauterbach later told a military prosecutor she didn't believe the child was Laurean's based on a recalculated conception date, he said.
Turner said Lauterbach reported being punched in the face by an unknown assailant and having her car vandalized following the rape allegation, but the Marines took no further action to protect her from harm.
Kramlich said the Marines gave special attention to Lauterbach's assault and vandalism complaints, but didn't recover any evidence. He said Lauterbach was certain the person who punched her was not Laurean. Lauterbach could provide no specific information about the vandalism and was advised to report it to the provost marshal's office, but did not, he said.
There was no attempt to question Laurean about Lauterbach's disappearance because the two were no longer working together, no longer associated as far as the command knew and there was no evidence to indicate Laurean had anything to do with Lauterbach's unauthorized absence, Kramlich said.
The day Lauterbach's absence became known, a request was made to try to locate her in a more expedient manner due to her advanced pregnancy by classifying her as a deserter, Kramlich's letter said. However, he said the request was denied by headquarters because she didn't meet the established criteria for desertion.
Turner said he is reviewing the Marine Corps' response and sharing it with fellow lawmakers similarly concerned about the way the Marines handle allegations of rape.
Attorney Merle Wilberding, who represents the Lauterbach family, said Marine procedures seem to ignore the emotional trauma suffered by the victim.
"The message of the Marines' response underscores the need for someone outside of the Marines, someone outside of the military, to look at these problems and try to provide a solution — a better program that will proactively help these victims and not put the burden on the victim to protect herself," Wilberding said.