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Slain Marine’s grieving mom decries extradition fight

For now, the grieving mother of Maria Lauterbach must wait for justice. The man accused of killing the pregnant Marine after she accused him of sexual assault is fighting a ruling that would extradite him from Mexico back to the United States to face charges of first-degree murder.Appearing exclusively on TODAY Thursday, Mary Lauterbach told Meredith Vieira it’s “terribly shocking” that her
/ Source: TODAY contributor

For now, the grieving mother of Maria Lauterbach must wait for justice. The man accused of killing the pregnant Marine after she accused him of sexual assault is fighting a ruling that would extradite him from Mexico back to the United States to face charges of first-degree murder.

Appearing exclusively on TODAY Thursday, Mary Lauterbach told Meredith Vieira it’s “terribly shocking” that her daughter’s accused murderer, Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, has been able to stall his extradition since his capture in April after a three-month manhunt. But for now, she focuses her efforts toward making sure that her heartbreak is never revisited among families of U.S. military personnel.

“I feel like I owe it to my daughter — I really do,” Lauterbach, fighting back tears, told Vieira. “She had been through so much. I feel I have to follow through in her name.”

“I have a hole there I have to live with; I can’t bring her back. I suppose there’s some small comfort in helping other people in the future that won’t have this happen to them.”

Rape accusation

In the spring of 2007, Maria Lauterbach of Dayton, Ohio, accused Laurean of raping her. She was reported missing Dec. 14, just days before she was scheduled to give testimony in her assault case against Laurean.

In the days following her daughter’s disappearance, Mary Lauterbach called military authorities repeatedly, but she said there was a lack of interest in the case. “The military rep told me that Laurean was accounted for,” she said.

She said it wasn’t until Jan. 7, when Mary and her brother traveled to the Camp Lejeune, N.C., base where her daughter was stationed, that authorities began to take the case seriously — and began looking into Laurean.

Four days later, Laurean — a dual national of Mexico and the U.S. — went missing. Acting on a note Laurean left behind for his wife, Christina, authorities searched Laurean’s home near the North Carolina base and found the eight-months-pregnant Lauterbach’s charred remains buried in a shallow grave in his backyard. Laurean was charged with first-degree murder and a manhunt ensued.

But Laurean has so far been able to stymie efforts to bring him back to the U.S. While Mexico’s extradition law does not permit a person to be sent to a country where they face the death penalty, a 2005 Supreme Court decision does allow for extradition for cases in which a suspect faces life in prison without parole, even though Mexico has no such sentence on its books.

Stall tactic?

On TODAY, the Lauterbach family attorney, Merle Wilberding, told Vieira that North Carolina authorities took the possibility of a death sentence off the table to ensure Laurean’s extradition, and indicated that Laurean’s appeal is a stall tactic.

“I’m not sure what his thinking is,” Wilberding said. “The only thing that Laurean’s attorneys could have now would be ... to see if they could get the Mexican Supreme Court to look at it again.”

While the extradition case could be tied up in court for up to two years, Mary Lauterbach is moving forward in her slain daughter’s name. In July, she testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Maria’s case and offered steps she believes would be effective in providing support for victims of sexual assault in the military.

“Listening to Maria all those months after she had made her accusation, she clearly was not taken seriously,” Lauterbach told Vieira. “She was put to the side, and even when she was found missing, we were being just ignored. It was tremendously frustrating.”

She added: “Now that we have found out what has happened, I think it gives a little bit more weight and has attracted the attention of more people [who feel] that the process in the military has to change.”

‘An alarm bell’

Still, Lauterbach’s family and North Carolina authorities fear the possibility that Laurean will never face the music in a U.S. court. Mary Lauterbach called Laurean’s fight against being extradited “an alarm bell,” and Onslow County, N.C.,  District Attorney Dewey Hudson told NBC “it would be a tremendous miscarriage of justice” if Laurean is never put on trial.

If the Mexican court reverses its 2005 ruling and ultimately decides not to extradite Laurean, he might well walk away scot-free, Hudson warned.

“Common sense tells me if they’re not going to deport him back [to the U.S.], my biggest concern is he could be released to live in Mexico,” he said.

When and if Laurean is tried for Lauterbach’s murder, prosecutors are confident they have enough evidence to convict. In the letter he left for his wife before fleeing, Laurean admitted to burying the pregnant Lauterbach, but said she had committed suicide by cutting her throat. A coroner, however, rejected the assertion, saying an autopsy showed Lauterbach died of blunt-force trauma to her head.

Mary Lauterbach said her late daughter had feared Laurean would never be brought to justice.

“When Maria was still alive, she used to tell me that this thing would never play out,” Lauterbach said. “So it’s personal to me to make sure that he pays for what he’s done.”