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Onslow Co., N.C., Sheriff Makes Statement in Murder Case

Aired January 13, 2008 - 08:26   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are continuing to follow this story of the missing Marine who we have learned just as of yesterday that her remains -- at least what is believed to be her remains have been found in the backyard of a suspect -- the prime suspect in the case. And we just spoke Sheriff Ed Brown who has been leading this investigation. And he mentioned that he is going to be making an announcement momentarily, and so we are waiting for that.
But there is a lot of speculation, especially here at CNN, as we learned from our reporter on the ground, that there has been a confirmed sighting from Corporal Cesar Laurean, who is the prime suspect in this murder investigation.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And here we're watching Sheriff Ed Brown getting ready to make that statement. He has -- you can say, no doubt about it, he has been through it during this investigation, been questioned about his department and why Laurean wasn't kept an eye on, why he wasn't picked up since he was also the person that Maria Lauterbach was accusing of rape.

So when she came up missing, why he wasn't immediately considered a suspect? Why he wasn't picked up? And the sheriff has got a lot of tough questions. We just heard from him a short time ago here. You talking to him, Betty. He took a moment and actually went to read a statement, almost an apology for some of his behavior, if you will, but saying, I'm trying to represent my community, my city, my department the best way I know how and, you know, sometimes get some of these tough questions and if I step out of line and out of character, please, you all, don't take it personally.

Knows the media has a job to do, I have a job to do here as well. But the suspect, Laurean, nationwide manhunt going on for him and now the word is from our people on the ground that there is a confirmed sighting. He would not confirm that with us just now. He said he wanted to wait and make an official announcement. So that is what we expect from the sheriff...


NGUYEN: And there is a lot of question as to whether he remained in North Carolina or if he had traveled on to Nevada where he is from. And also, questions surrounding his wife too. Because we have learned that Laurean's wife was living with him at that home where the body was found in the backyard, and she was responsible for some providing information which led this investigation not only to the body, but pointing to Corporal Laurean. And the question today is whether she was a witness to this alleged crime at the hands of Laurean, or if she has any more information as to his whereabouts. So we're watching very closely as the sheriff is about to speak momentarily to our correspondent on the ground. And as soon as he does, we are going to take that live.

But in the meantime, it was just a gruesome discovery yesterday, a female -- a pregnant female and a fetus in the backyard of the prime suspect.

HOLMES: And we're watching that video on the right. That is the video from -- we see the sheriff, let's go ahead and listen, and see if -- he appears to be ready to speak here. We'll listen in.

Well, maybe he's not quite ready yet. So again, to remind you all, there hasn't been a positive ID because the body, and of course, the fetus that was found in the backyard of the suspect was charred.

Here we go, we'll let's listen in now, see if he's ready.

SHERIFF ED BROWN, ONSLOW COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA: ... so we get a clear picture of how we work at the sheriff's office. I believe the reason I've been sheriff 18 years is my promise to be fair and honest with everyone, and what I've tried to do with the media, you people who have been on the ground here and put all of this time here, we bring you the release first.

After you get it and get it to your station, then we punch it in to the e-mail and it goes everywhere else. What you have a lot of times, if somebody call you and wants what I'm about to give you before you can get it. I know the competitiveness of this arena that you're in. But understand the fairness of the arena that I'm in has to do with everyone.

And that is why that I didn't answer that phone they probably want me to answer, answer that question, but you being here, you have you been in the trenches, and you get it, and then it immediately goes out to everyone else on our e-mail list. Fairness is always necessary in competition. (INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION: So what's the latest?

BROWN: The latest is -- everyone ready?


QUESTION: Oh, yes.

BROWN: If everyone is ready, I was left a note this morning by Captain Sutherland (ph), who is my right hand person in this, and my assistant with you all in this, to inform me that they received information last night of a confirmed sighting of the suspect, Laurean, that we're looking for in this case.

But we'll let you know at this time that we have got U.S. marshals, FBI, NCIS, and SBI. We've got about every law enforcement agency that represents the American people involved in this manhunt. That site was not in Onslow County, it was not in North Carolina. As a matter of fact, it was some states away from here.

About all I can tell you about that at this time, I do feel comfortable that Mr. Laurean will be located. I don't won't put no time levels on it because I don't know. But I think it will be sooner than maybe we had expected.

QUESTION: Can you say what time this happened?

BROWN: It must have happened somewhere around midnight. They stayed here until 3:30 this morning, he is supposed to be here at 8:30 this morning. I haven't seen him. As you notice, I look around to see him, because he is the one I have to look at to keep me up to speed to what is going on. But it's somewhere around midnight. I left here a little early, about 10:00 last night.

QUESTION: And what state was he seen in?

BROWN: I can't tell you that.


QUESTION: ... a tip from a member of the public?

BROWN: No. This is a -- we've got stuff going on out there that we're doing, and this information was verified by law enforcement agency in another place. It really makes it nice when you have got people like the marshals and FBI and other law enforcement agencies throughout the country helping with you this, and they have confirmed it was him, by personally talking to the witness that spent some time with him.

QUESTION: Can you say how they arrived to that conclusion (OFF- MIKE)?

BROWN: I don't know the inner makings of that. And probably if it happened in the investigation, I wouldn't say it to start with.

QUESTION: So in other words, a member of the public saw him and called the police?

BROWN: Some evidence that we have been collecting put us in some directions that we needed to go.

QUESTION: Sheriff, could there be any other arrests besides Mr. Laurean?

BROWN: Again, I'm still in the stage of having to protect the investigation, because it did not stop yesterday, and I can't comment either way on any other information that would be involved or connected to the case.


BROWN: The process of law enforcement brought about the person of -- the witness that gave us the confirmed sighting of this person.

QUESTION: So it seems like this might be someone he knows?

BROWN: I can't -- still understand, folks, I hope we got this out of the way. There is still an investigation going on, and I must protect the integrity of the investigation.

QUESTION: Is there a sense of urgency now that you have got this kind of information?

BROWN: The sense of urgency has always existed since he has been identified as the suspect in this case. And also the sense of urgency to apprehend him is there, but the sense of urgency to continue to develop the complete, total picture of this crime is still there too also.

QUESTION: Was he alone?

BROWN: All indications when we -- when he was spotted last night.

QUESTION: You can't tell us where he was spotted at?

BROWN: No, ma'am.

QUESTION: Was there any reason why he -- if he was spotted, why he was not detained, why he wasn't captured?

BROWN: He wasn't spotted by a cop, he wasn't spotted by law enforcement. And we told you all -- and we told the folks in the general public, don't try to detain him. This thing that we saw at his house in the luminol testing, this thing that we saw in that pit in the back of the house leads us to believe that he could be a dangerous and violent person if he was put in a corner.

QUESTION: Was he still driving his own truck?

BROWN: I can't answer. I can't answer.


BROWN: The brutality of the crime is -- is touchy (ph), but the importance to make an arrest in any crime is important, so we want him, just like we want anybody else if the brutality wasn't there. He is a wanted person with a warrant, and this is a murder, and whether it was a murder of any kind, the urgency is the same.

QUESTION: Do you feel confident that law enforcement was informed quickly enough that he couldn't have gotten very far? Do you think he is...

BROWN: Remember, when he we got the information -- and this is maybe something I can clear this up morning for the general public. When we got the information, Mr. Laurean was out of town, he was gone, from what we told. Then after we get the information, just like all other information, we have got to confirm the validity of that information.

And we went -- and I think this is to express how quick the officers work in this case, this information come to us at about 9:00. At 3:00, we were unearthing a piece of a cavity in the back of Mr. Laurean's house. We had a search warrant. We were doing things in less than six hours after getting information. We confirmed it, validated it, and put it in action.

And I think that goes to speak highly of the professionalism that the officers involved in this investigation have showed.

QUESTION: Who alerted your department about this sighting? Was it the FBI, or was it the marshal's office?

BROWN: I don't know. I can't answer that. Mr. Sutherland, my right-hand man, has not been here to talk in my ear. He just left me a note.


BROWN: No, no. No, it was someone the suspect came in contact with.


BROWN: A little time, yes, a little time. Was out of state, it was out of this -- away from North Carolina, two or three states.


BROWN: The sighting believed to be a transit sighting, if you understand what I'm talking about.

QUESTION: No. Help me out.


BROWN: A transit sighting. It's not something where he's not standing there waiting for somebody to come look at him again. He did not stay where he was at in this sighting.

QUESTION: Plane, train, automobile, kind of deal?

BROWN: Airplane -- I don't know where you can sight someone on an airplane. But, no, I just won't pick on you -- no, can't tell you that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sheriff.

BROWN: Thank you all. Thank you all, again.

NGUYEN: All right. So we've been listening to Sheriff Ed Brown. Tell us that there, indeed, has been a confirmed sighting of Corporal Cesar Armando Laurean, the prime suspect in the murder of Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach. She was the 20-year-old pregnant Marine who went missing in mid-December. And the sheriff there did not elaborate on exactly where Corporal Laurean was sighted. Although he did say it was not in North Carolina. May have been a few states away. And that information came at around midnight last night. Also said that the witness spent a little time with him, did not elaborate on that as well. And he can't say whether anymore arrested will be made in this case.

So it leads to more questions. That's kind of how these press conferences have been going, little bits and pieces of information. All of it leading to many, many more questions.

We want to go now on the ground to our correspondent, CNN's Ed Lavandera. You heard him asking many of those questions of the sheriff. He is getting in place, and i believe is he ready. Ed, what do you make of what you just heard? It seems like the only headline is that there has been a sighting of Corporal Laurean.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things, you know, he kind of -- in continuing to talk to the sheriff there, you know, we kind of pieced things together slowly. He did mention that Laurean was spotted by someone that he -- that Laurean seemed to be in a -- as the way the Sheriff described it, a transient nature, obviously not wanting to stay in one place for too long.

So it sounds like someone -- the sheriff, we asked him if this is someone that Laurean might have known. Obviously, you know, the suspicion, for someone who has been on the run for three days, you know, we have wondered here for some time if he has help or friends out there who are helping him out in some sort of way. So that was an obvious question for us.

But the sheriff is saying that this is -- it doesn't appear to be someone he knows. This person called in the tip to law enforcement last night, and they were processing that. He wasn't clear about who exactly let notify them about this tip. But -- and obviously there wasn't enough time for law enforcement to get in place there to apprehend Mr. Laurean. So that continues, of course.

And the other thing that he had mentioned that I thought was interesting was that he -- I think the way he described it was, he's in a place, wouldn't say exactly where, but two or three states away. So you know, from there you can establish here on -- from being on the East Coast, you can kind of establish a radius as to how far away Mr. Laurean has been able to get away from Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Clearly, offers up more sense of urgency and this is the first really concrete tip I think that they have -- from what they've said publicly. There might have been others that we don't know about. But clearly this is the first concrete tip, the first sighting that they have had of Mr. Laurean since they say he left the Jacksonville, North Carolina, 4:00 a.m. Friday morning in the middle of night -- Betty.

NGUYEN: As far as the investigation back there in North Carolina, what do you know as to -- if there are going to be any other arrests in this case? Because there has been a lot of talk about Laurean's wife living with him at that home where the body was found. LAVANDERA: Well, the sheriff and the other investigators have been asked that question repeatedly for the last several days. And all they will say is that she is a cooperating witness. Obviously, the person who came forward and got all of this information started was -- I think it was Friday morning, if my memory serves me correctly.

But they won't go beyond that. They just say someone that they are talking to remains helpful. Whether or not that changes in the coming days is hard to say. We don't know where she is. We haven't had a chance to talk to her. So you know, all we are able to get at this point is from what authorities here are saying about her. And they describe her as cooperative and as the person who turned them in this direction in this investigation.

NGUYEN: Ed, I have to ask you this question, because you have been there for a few days now. And we just interviewed the sheriff a few minutes before he held that press conference and he read a statement talking about how he wants to be fair and he wants to represent this investigation in the correct manner -- his fate (ph) as well. Apparently this is taking a very deep toll on the sheriff.

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, it has been probably a difficult time. It's -- for the sheriff's investigators that are here, they have come under a lot of fire from us and other people who are asking serious questions about the way this investigation has unfolded and perhaps why eyes hadn't turned sooner onto Mr. Laurean earlier in the investigation.

It has been a situation in many ways very difficult to get information on, especially on the Marine side of this investigation, and Cesar Laurean's connection with Maria Lauterbach and the criminal investigation that was ongoing here at Camp Lejeune, that aspect has been very difficult, and the sheriff's deputies and the investigators here in Jacksonville, clearly even though I think they are hesitant to come out and say it has been difficult to get information, they clearly have -- it's getting information that would have been -- proved vital almost a month ago has been slow in coming to them as well.

The Camp Lejeune officials here say that they have -- all indications early on pointed to the situation that Maria Lauterbach had left willingly on her own, that she had left a note behind at her house saying everything was OK, and that because of those types of things, they didn't raise suspicions that this had actually turned into much a tragic situation.

All of this, I think for most people's eyes, kind of came out too slowly, obviously, too slowly to save Maria Lauterbach's life. But I think that is kind of the dynamic that is at play here between the various organizations.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN's Ed Lavandera joining us from Jacksonville, North Carolina, as we're learning more in the case of the missing pregnant Marine who has what appears to have been found dead in the backyard of the primary suspect. Thank you, Ed.

And we're going to have much more on this story, especially as we have just learned within the past few minutes that there has been a spotting of Corporal Armando -- Cesar Armando Laurean.

HOLMES: All right. We're going to, top of the hour, continue to follow this story. The way this story has been developing, there might be new information even in the next few minutes or so. But we'll certainly have that for you at the top of the hour. But now we're going to join "HOUSE CALL" after we take a quick break.