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Case troubles Marine's family

As authorities recover the missing woman's remains, relatives say more should have been done.

By Assocaited press
Published January 13, 2008


JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - For months after a pregnant 20-year-old Marine accused a colleague of rape, her family says, she continued to work alongside her attacker and endured harassment at Camp Lejeune.

In the weeks after she disappeared, they believe, the sheriff's department was slow to act.

As authorities recovered Maria Lauterbach's remains Saturday from a fire pit where they suspect Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean burned and buried her body, her family asked why authorities didn't treat her case with greater urgency.

Naval investigators on Saturday said the pair had been separated on the job, a rape case was progressing and Laurean was under a protective order to stay away from Lauterbach. And Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown insisted his department acted as best it could on the facts available.

"As soon as it went suspicious, we contacted the media and asked for help," Brown said. "The case did not produce enough evidence, other than she was just missing."

On Saturday, her burnt remains and those of her unborn child were excavated from Laurean's back yard.

Authorities have issued an arrest warrant on murder charges for Laurean, 21, of the Las Vegas area. They say he fled Jacksonville after leaving behind a note in which he admitted burying her body.

In his note, Laurean wrote that Lauterbach cut her own throat in a suicide, but Brown doesn't believe it and challenged Laurean to come forward.

Authorities have described a violent confrontation inside Laurean's home that left blood spatters on the ceiling and large amounts of blood on the wall.

Lauterbach disappeared sometime after Dec. 14, not long after she met with military prosecutors to talk about her April allegation that Laurean raped her.

Her uncle, Pete Steiner, said that Lauterbach - stung by the harassment that eventually forced her to move off base - decided to drop the case the week before she disappeared.

Paul Chiccarelli, the special agent in charge of Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Camp Lejeune, said Saturday that Marine commanders submitted requests in October to send the case to the military's version of a grand jury. A military protective order was automatically issued in May and renewed three times.

"Anytime there is a sexual assault allegation involved, that's a standard routine," he said.

Lauterbach and Laurean served in the same unit of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, and court documents indicate Lauterbach's mother told authorities that Laurean had threatened her daughter's career.

Steiner said Saturday on ABC's Good Morning America that the Marines didn't separate the two personnel clerks, but Chiccarelli said Marine commanders assigned them to separate buildings on May 12.

Neither Brown nor county prosecutor Dewey Hudson would say Saturday if they would have treated the case differently had they known about the protective order, which they discovered Friday night.

Chiccarelli said sheriff's office investigators were told about the order on Monday.

But Chiccarelli again said investigators didn't consider Laurean a threat to Lauterbach, or later a flight risk, because they had indications the two were on friendly terms. He declined to detail those indications Saturday.

[Last modified January 13, 2008, 01:05:31]

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