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Man accused in fellow Marine's death captured

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. Embassy says Laurean was captured in San Juan Vina on Thursday
  • Cpl. Cesar Laurean is main suspect in death of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach
  • Prosecutor is "disappointed we didn't catch him in America"
  • Authorities are awaiting his extradition to United States
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(CNN) -- U.S. Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, the main suspect in the killing of a 20-year-old pregnant Marine, has been captured in Mexico three months after fleeing North Carolina, the FBI announced Thursday.

"I loved her," Laurean told a Mexican reporter who asked whether he killed Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach.

Authorities are awaiting extradition to bring Laurean, who has been on the run since January, back to North Carolina. He has been indicted on charges of murder, ATM card theft, attempted card theft, fraud and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Mexican authorities arrested Laurean at 7 p.m. Thursday in San Juan Vina, in Michoacan, about 120 miles west of the capital, after he approached a roadblock set up by the local anti-kidnapping task force, according to the Michoacan state attorney general's office.

Laurean, dressed in a red t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, gave authorities his real name, which was entered into a criminal database that alerted authorities to his fugitive status, Guzman said. Police said Laurean was calm and gave no resistance.

He told police he had been sleeping in avocado groves and eating the fruit from the trees, Guzman said.

Laurean, who grew a scruffy beard, appeared thin and unkempt, Guzman said.

"This is a clear message to all would-be fugitives from U.S. law that Mexico will not provide them refuge," U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio O. Garza said in a statement. "Laurean fled to Mexico early this year in the hope of avoiding justice. Despite his attempts to elude apprehension, international police cooperation and cutting edge technology led law-enforcement officials to his capture."

However, if Laurean chooses to fight extradition, it could take two years to return him to North Carolina, said Dewey Hudson, district attorney for Onslow County, North Carolina.

"I'm very happy he was caught today in Mexico, but I'm disappointed we didn't catch him in America," Hudson said. Mexico's extradition policy prohibits U.S. authorities from seeking the death penalty against fugitives who are turned over by Mexican authorities.

Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach was eight months pregnant when she was last seen near Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, in December. A month later, her charred body, along with that of her fetus, was found beneath a fire pit in Laurean's backyard in Onslow County.

Authorities believe that Laurean killed Lauterbach on December 14 and used her ATM card 10 days later before fleeing to his native Mexico. See a timeline of events »

Lauterbach had accused him of raping her, and it is unclear whether he was the father of her fetus. Laurean denied the rape allegation or any other sexual contact with Lauterbach. In a statement issued after her death, the Marine Corps said Laurean's denial "was believed to be significant evidence."

Her body was found after Laurean's wife produced a note he had written claiming Lauterbach slit her own throat during an argument, officials have said.

A 4-inch wound was found on the left side of Lauterbach's neck, though the wound itself would not have been fatal, according to autopsy results.

A law enforcement official said federal authorities recently seized a computer belonging to Laurean's sister-in-law, which Laurean's wife was using to communicate with Laurean while he was on the run. Laurean apparently told his wife in e-mails that he wanted to return to the United States, the official said.

Authorities also seized the wife's diary.

"It's clear she's still deeply in love with him and she is vacillating between loving him and being angry at him for not being faithful to her," the official said. "It's not necessarily illegal for a wife to talk to her husband, but if she had tried to help him in any way, there would have been a problem."

The news of Laurean's capture took Lauterbach's mother by surprise, family attorney Merle Wilberding said.

"She's grateful he's been caught, that the system has worked and she hopes will continue to work," he said.

Lauterbach's mother has demanded answers from the Marines about why more wasn't done to protect her daughter after she made the rape allegation against Laurean.

Mary Lauterbach sent a list of 30-plus questions to the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, through her congressman last week and says she's unconvinced that her daughter's rape allegation against a fellow Marine was treated seriously.

A Marine Corps spokesman has said the service will respond to all of Mary Lauterbach's questions and will not comment further until those answers are complete.

After Maria Lauterbach accused Laurean of rape in May 2007, she was moved to another office, and a military protective order was issued to keep the accuser from the accused. But Mary Lauterbach and her congressman, Rep. Mike Turner, say the Marines didn't do enough to protect her.

Turner said in a news release this week that the response from the Marines, sent by Lt. Gen. R. S. Kramlich, director of Marine Corps Staff, "demonstrates that the actions taken by the Marine Corps to protect Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach were totally inadequate."

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Turner said there was "a lack of urgency in the Marine Corps' response to Maria Lauterbach's plea for help." He said the Marine Corps waited six days to start investigating Lauterbach's rape allegation against Laurean.

The Marine Corps took no action to protect Lauterbach despite an assault on her and vandalism to her car, Turner said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Susan Candiotti, Harris Whitbeck and Joe Duran contributed to this report.

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