Military investigators may have doubted a rape claim made by pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach against a superior now facing charges for murder because the victim once made up a story about her brother's death at the hands of a relative, Lauterbach's mother said in an exclusive interview.
“When someone has an incident like that, it sets them up to be the perfect victim,” Mary Lauterbach told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Tuesday. “Here's a person where they have a credibility problem and it's a beautiful woman. If you had an inclination to be violent and attack women, who would you pick?”
The charred remains of Lauterbach's 20-year-old daughter and unborn child were unearthed Jan. 11 in a backyard pit at the home of Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean, a fugitive who has since been charged by a grand jury with first-degree murder. In May 2006, Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach accused Laurean, her superior officer, of raping her on the Camp Lejeune, N.C., base where both served in the same unit.
Lauterbach, who was eight months pregnant when she died, was scheduled to testify against Laurean at a military proceeding just days after she vanished. After Laurean left home abruptly, Laurean's wife gave investigators information that led to the discovery of Lauterbach's body and the fetus.
In her first television interview, Mary Lauterbach said the Marine Corps failed to protect her daughter and charged that investigators portrayed Maria Lauterbach as a habitual liar by taking a portion of a three-page e-mail from Mary Lauterbach out of context.
“There has been so much information floating around about Maria, largely from people who don't even know her. Also, a lot of speculation,” Mary Lauterbach said, explaining her decision to break her silence. “It seemed important at this time — normally I'd never be here — [for] someone to stand up and speak for Maria.”
Mary Lauterbach described Maria Lauterbach, who was adopted as a toddler, as vivacious.
“She never sat still. She was the bold, lively one. Very interested in sports,” Mary Lauterbach said. “She was always climbing up things and jumping off. You couldn't keep her down.”
But when Lauterbach left her family behind in Dayton, Ohio, to report to Camp Lejeune, relatives noticed a change. She was sad, but rarely talked about those feelings. Instead, when she called home the conversation would focus on what was happening in the lives of others.
“It was difficult for her to be away from home. She had never been away from home for any length of time,” Mary Lauterbach said. “And having had a difficult early childhood, she was very attached to home and it was hard for her to be away.”
Mary Lauterbach acknowledged that she did tell investigators that her daughter had a tendency to lie, but added that the statement was in the context of a troubled teenager who had been adopted after a difficult childhood.
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According to published reports, Maria Lauterbach was given counseling by the military in 2006 after Mary Lauterbach assured investigators that Maria Lauterbach was not being truthful when she told other Marines that her brother — who is still alive — died after her father struck him with a lamp.
Mary Lauterbach believes that the incident may have been in the back of investigators' minds when Maria Lauterbach made her rape allegation against Laurean.
“You can tell in just a very general away that no one seemed to believe her,” Mary Lauterbach said. “There was an underlying assumption that [they didn't] really think it happened. It was taken rather lightly.”
One of two attorneys who appeared on the program with Lauterbach, Chris Conard, said the family hopes that the Marine Corps reforms the way it responds to sexual assault allegations within the ranks in the future.
“We think the Marines could have done more to protect Maria when she made the report,” Conard said. “We know everything was done to protect the accused — perfectly proper. But they could have transferred her to another base, another unit. As it was, she stayed in the same unit.”
“It was an avoidable tragedy,” said the second attorney, Merle Wilberding. “That's the one truth we all do know.”
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