Hunt is on for missing marine

Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 9:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 9:09 a.m.

VANDALIA, Ohio - Hundreds prayed for Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and hailed the pregnant Marine for her strength, vitality and service as law enforcement officials warned the man suspected in her killing that they would hunt him down.

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Motorists drive near an electronic billboard with the picture of Cesar Laurean, a Marine wanted in the slaying of a pregnant colleague, Monday, Jan. 14, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio. The sheriff announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean.

Jay LaPrete/The Associated Press

The search for Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean entered its fourth day Tuesday with a $25,000 reward and a plan to post billboards of his picture nationwide.

"The search for Laurean is Earthwide," Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said Monday. "You're never gone for good when law enforcement is after you."

Lauterbach disappeared sometime after Dec. 14. The 20-year-old Dayton native had recently met with military prosecutors to talk about her April allegation that Laurean raped her.

Over the weekend, authorities recovered what they believe to be the burned remains of Lauterbach and her unborn child from a fire pit in Laurean's backyard in Jacksonville, N.C.

Inside St. Christopher Catholic Church in Vandalia, Ohio, about 10 miles north of Dayton, hundreds of friends offered prayers Monday for Lauterbach.

"This evening, we are suffering," the Rev. Francis Keferl told a spillover crowd of more than 800 people.

A table outside the sanctuary held family photos of Lauterbach as a young girl huddled with siblings on a couch and blowing out birthday candles.

Lauterbach's mother, Mary, dabbed at her eyes during the 40-minute service. A congregant gave her a pink rose.

Mary Lauterbach has said the physical demands of the Marines appealed to her daughter, and that she liked boot camp. Her father, Victor Lauterbach, is an Air Force Reserve master sergeant, and the couple adopted Maria as a baby. They have four other children.

"She joined the Marine Corps for a big challenge," said Marine Staff Sgt. Sam Mao, a recruiter in Huber Heights, where she joined the Marines in 2006. "She was determined to succeed."

On Saturday, authorities issued an arrest warrant on murder charges for Laurean, 21, of the Las Vegas area. They believe he fled Jacksonville before dawn on Friday, leaving behind a note in which he admitted to burying her body but said Lauterbach cut her own throat in a suicide.

Brown, who has rejected the idea that Lauterbach committed suicide, said late Monday that authorities had received a preliminary autopsy report on the remains. He declined to discuss details, other than to say a gun was not used.

Lauterbach's ATM card was found at a bus station in Durham, about 150 miles northwest of Jacksonville. Witnesses reported seeing his black four-door pickup truck in the Raleigh and Durham area, Brown said.

Other witnesses said they thought they saw him Saturday night at a bus station in Shreveport, La.

The FBI and United States Marshals are involved in the search for Laurean, who is expected to be charged with murder when he is arrested. The first billboards with Laurean's photo went up in Columbus, Ohio, and others are expected in Tampa, Fla., and Las Vegas.

Local authorities, not the military, are expected to charge Laurean when he is caught. North Carolina is one of 15 states without a fetal homicide law, so Laurean likely would only face charges in Lauterbach's death.

Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said he has no plans to step aside for a military prosecution. That makes it unlikely that Laurean would be prosecuted under the federal fetal homicide law passed in 2004 during the height of attention to the California trial of Scott Peterson, who was accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci. The law makes it a crime to harm a fetus during the assault of a pregnant woman.

The military could seek charges at the same time as civilian authorities, said Scott Silliman, a former military lawyer who is now director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University. But a joint prosecution is not recommended by the military's manual for courts-martial, Silliman said.

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