MORELIA, Mexico – North Carolina authorities on Friday said the wife of a Marine charged with murdering a pregnant colleague denied his requests for assistance as he hid in Mexico.
Onslow County Sheriff's Capt. Rick Sutherland said Cpl. Cesar Laurean repeatedly asked his family and his wife, Christina, for resources after he fled in January to Mexico.
"She specifically denied to provide those resources when she was asked," Sutherland said. "She knew that was against the law."
He added: "We received cooperation from family members. … That got us to the place we are today."
Laurean is charged with murder in the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who had accused him of rape. Her burned remains were found in January in the backyard of his home near Camp Lejeune.
He was arrested in the western Mexico town of Tacambaro on Thursday night after a three-month international manhunt. If convicted, he is not eligible for the death penalty since he was caught in Mexico.
"His only punishment would be life without parole," Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said. But the process of extraditing him to the U.S., where he would face charges, could take between a few days and a few years, Hudson said.
"Hopefully he will not fight extradition," he said.
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"While Laurean’s crime was horrible, to say the least, Cesar Laurean is not an animal," Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said. "He is human and he is not a trophy."
Bearded, thin and chained at the wrists and ankles, Laurean spoke briefly with The Associated Press while being held at the Michoacan state Attorney General's Office in Morelia, the state capital. He appeared slightly disoriented and stared straight ahead, his eyes occasionally filling up with tears as he answered a reporter's questions in terse phrases.
"You know my name. You know who I am," Laurean said. Asked if he wanted to say anything, Laurean answered, "Proof," but wouldn't explain.
Asked what he would do next, he replied, "Do I have a choice?... I don't know."
The FBI said Laurean, 21, is awaiting extradition to the U.S., although local authorities in North Carolina cautioned the process could take a year or more if he decides to fight it. They encouraged him Friday to waive extradition, saying the process — however lengthy — will inevitably lead to his return.
"It will be smart for him to do it," said Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown. "It is like his apprehension. That day will come."
Magdalena Guzman, a prosecutors' spokeswoman, said police carrying out an anti-kidnapping operation stopped Laurean as he wandered on a street because they thought he looked suspicious.
When they realized he didn't speak Spanish well, they became even more suspicious. After running his name through a computer — and recognizing his distinctive tattoos — they realized Laurean was wanted in the United States to face charges in Lauterbach's death.
Guzman said Laurean told the arresting officers he had only 10 pesos — about $1 — in his pocket when arrested.
U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said in a statement that "Laurean fled to Mexico early this year in the hope of avoiding justice" and called the arrest "a clear message to all would-be fugitives from U.S. law that Mexico will not provide them refuge."
Laurean, of Las Vegas, was born in Guadalajara, but family members there have said he moved to the U.S. more than 10 years ago. He had told members of his unit that he would flee to Mexico if it appeared he would be found guilty of rape. Authorities believe he entered Mexico on a bus on Jan. 14.
Lauterbach and Laurean were both personnel clerks in the same logistics unit at Camp Lejeune, an expansive coastal North Carolina base that is home to roughly 50,000 Marines. Detectives believe Laurean killed Lauterbach, who was 20 and eight months pregnant, on Dec. 14 after forcing her to remove money from her bank account.
Detectives have said Laurean left behind a note for his wife in which he denied killing Lauterbach but admitted to burying her remains. In the note, Laurean said Lauterbach committed suicide by cutting her own throat.
Authorities rejected the assertion, saying evidence indicates Lauterbach died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Lauterbach accused Laurean of rape last spring, a charge he denied and one that Naval investigators were unable to corroborate. Even though Lauterbach later told investigators she did not feel Laurean posed a danger or threat to her, the pair was separated on base. The Marines have said their regimental commander was intent on taking the case to a hearing that could have led to a trial.
"Our focus as a community and a nation must be on achieving justice for Maria and determining what can be done in the future to provide protection for other women in the military," said Ohio GOP Rep. Michael Turner, who had complained about the Marines' handling of Lauterbach's rape allegations.
Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson has agreed not to seek execution in order to win the cooperation of Mexico, which refuses to send anyone back to the U.S. unless provided assurance they will not face a death sentence.
Tipped by the note, and not long after authorities went public in their search for the Lauterbach, detectives discovered the charred remains of the missing Marine and her fetus in a shallow grave in Laurean's backyard. Hudson said Laurean and his wife were in touch while he was in Mexico, sending messages to each other using the MySpace social networking service.
Hudson said investigators recently seized a computer belonging to Christina Laurean's sister, which she was using to send the messages. He declined to discuss their contents and would not say if authorities had Christina Laurean under surveillance.
A woman who answered the phone at the home of Laurean's father-in-law, Bruce Shifflet, near Prospect, Ohio, hung up without commenting when told of the arrest.
Brown said that after learning of Laurean's arrest around 8 p.m. Thursday night, his first step was to call Mary Lauterbach. She told The Associated Press on Friday that she is "anxious for the truth to come out and for justice to be done. That's all I would ever ask for."
"This has been a terrible tragedy, not only for our family but for Cesar ... and Laurean's family," Lauterbach said as she was backing out of her driveway at the Vandalia, Ohio, home where Maria grew up. "We pray for them at this time. They are very much in our thoughts."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.