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thedrifter
03-21-08, 03:32 PM
3/21/2008 10:08:00 AM
Congressman Michael Turner seeks answers in Lauterbach murder

By Phillip Collins
Drummer Staff Writer

In the aftermath of the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn son, Congressman Michael Turner is questioning the Marines' internal procedures concerning sexual assault.

"This is a subject that is near to the congressman's heart," said communications director Bradley Mascho.

Mary Lauterbach, Maria's mother, said, "The congressman has had a real passionate interest in this and I am very grateful for that."

Turner had a phone conversation with General Michael Regner roughly two weeks ago. According to Mascho, Regner informed Turner that the Marine Corps "considers the sexual assault portion of the investigation to be concluded." However, Mascho said that Turner believes this contention is fraught with "serious discrepancies."

"The congressman believes more could have been done with regards to the initial claims of Lauterbach," Mascho said.

"While I respect the presumption of innocence for the accused, the victims must be protected," said Mary Lauterbach. "We've been contacted by a several dozen families in the same situation. One former Marine told me that Maria had great courage and that what she did would strike terror in the hearts of most military women. I thought that was reall sad."

Lauterbach had filed a claim of sexual assault against Cpl. Cesar Laurean on May 11, 2007. Lauterbach was murdered at some indeterminate point of time on December 14, 2007. The burnt remains of her and her unborn child were eventually discovered in a shallow grave in Laurean's backyard. Investigators determined that Lauterbach was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Laurean left a letter with his wife, claiming that Lauterbach had killed herself by slitting her own throat. Investigators have rejected this claim and believe that Laurean is hiding in Mexico. Presently, federal and state agencies have offered $30,000 for information leading to Laurean's capture.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps claims to have adequately reviewed its internal procedures and considers the question of sexual assault to be officially closed. According to a WHQR article, Marines spokesman T.V. Johnson said, "You can follow the rules and follow those regulations and still end up with a bad situation, so nobody here is faulting the command for the way it was handled. The perception here is that they did everything by the book."

Turner, however, disagrees.

"Unfortunately, they thought they were done," said Turner. "Sexual assault is inherently a violent crime. I don't believe they adequately knew the risks to Maria."

In a March 11 letter to General James T. Conway, Turner wrote, "As a member of the House Armed Services and Government Reform and Oversight Committees, I am particularly concerned about: the actions and inactions of the Marine Corps regarding the sexual assault claim by Maria Lauterbach in May of 2007; the actions and inactions of the Marines once Maria Lauterbach's pregnancy was confirmed in June, 2007, and the actions and inactions of the Marines when Maria Lauterbach, in the words of the Marine Corps, went 'UA' on December 17, 2007."

Working in conjunction with the Lauterbach family, Turner has drafted a list of a dozen questions for Conway. These included:

What measures were taken to protect Lauterbach after she accused Cpl Laurean of rape in May 2007?

Did Lauterbach continue her assignment in the same unit with Laurean after the accusations were made? If so, would the two have had regular contact as a result of the continued assignment?

Moreover, would such a continued assignment have facilitated regular contact between Lauterbach and other Marines who were associated with Laurean? Why was no DNA taken from Laurean after Lauterbach's pregnancy was confirmed on June 27, 2007?

Are civilian authorities notified when an individual who is under a Military Protective Order (MPO) moves off base? Is there any system in place to facilitate such notification?

Given Lauterbach's allegations of sexual assault, why were there no attempts to find her after she failed to report for duty on Monday, December 17, 2007? Moreover, why was Laurean not questioned? What specific details of sexual assault or harassment were provided by Lauterbach during her time of service? Are there any special reporting requirements within the chain of command when a claimant of sexual assault goes UA?

In his letter to Conway, Turner contended that "the Marines' internal procedures need to be reviewed" and that the death of Lauterbach and her son "could have been prevented."

"Laurean and Maria were not separated enough," said Turner.

Commenting further on how the Marines dealt with Laurean, Mary Lauterbach said, "They were not taking enough of a serious look at him."

In addition, Turner is dissatisfied with the fact that military authorities did not detain Laurean earlier into the case. Turner believes that this course of action allowed Laurean to escape to Mexico.

"There were a number of opportunities to take an action to prevent Laurean from fleeing," said Turner.

When asked if Turner would push for broader reforms in the Marines' policies concerning sexual assault victims, Mascho said, "He's keeping his options open."

According to Turner, Mary Lauterbach, has become "very committed to working with the military's policies concerning sexual assault and making sure that something like this doesn't happen to other women in the Marines."

"We want all women serving in the military to be safe," said Mary Lauterbach.

Turner also said that his efforts might lead to some Department of Defense or Congressional action to deal with sexual assault in the military.

Mascho said, "The Lauterbachs want to see justice for Maria, but they also want to see protection for women in the military in the future."

"We'd like to see some improvements in the way these cases are handled," Mary Lauterbach said. "I feel that additional safeguards can be put in place to protect victims of sexual assault in the military."

Turner has yet to receive answers from the Marine Corps. However, Conway sought to allay suspicions of obscurantism.

"They will be responding to questions in a timely manner, although I do not want to set a time-frame for their response," Mascho said.

Reiterating this contention, Turner said, "They've been very forthcoming with the information. But, again, I think they didn't adequately know the risks to Maria. There was either a problem with the decision-making or procedures. The questions I have drafted with the Lauterbach family will hopefully solve those problems."

While official military policy is the primary subject of scrutiny, Mary Lauterbach was quick to recapitulate her support for the United States Armed Services.

"We are coming at this from a position of supporting the military," said Lauterbach. "The situation with Maria shouldn't reflect on every Marine."

Ellie