A former Camp Lejeune Marine corporal who killed a pregnant colleague to save his military career will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Cesar Armando Laurean, 23, was found guilty by a Wayne County jury in the 2007 bludgeoning death of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. The jury deliberated for less than three hours before reaching its verdict based on testimony from 49 witnesses over a two-week period.

With his mother crying in the background, Laurean was shackled by bailiffs and led away after sentencing by N.C. Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith.

“I am extremely satisfied the jury made the right decision in this case,” said District Attorney Dewey Hudson, who called Laurean during closing arguments “a coward who hit a pregnant woman in the back of the head with a crowbar.”

Chief Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee said Mary Lauterbach lived a parent’s

worst nightmare for 28 days beginning Dec. 14, 2007, when she last spoke to her daughter.

“On Jan. 11, 2008, Mary Lauterbach’s nightmare became a reality when her daughter’s body was found buried in the defendant’s backyard,” he said.

Mary Lauterbach said after the trial that she intended to continue to push for sexual assault reporting reforms in the military.

“Maria will always be my hero,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

She thanked Onslow County Sheriff’s Sgt. T.J. Cavanagh.

“He was the first person I spoke to here that knew something was wrong,” she said.

During a two-week trial, prosecutors painted Cesar Laurean as a Camp Lejeune Marine corporal willing to kill a pregnant colleague to silence their adulterous affair while the defense countered that he was a good Marine caught in the vindictive trap of a female subordinate he had reprimanded.

Laurean and Lauterbach worked together aboard Camp Lejeune as personnel clerks until she accused him of rape in May 2007. A DNA test later revealed Laurean was not the father of her unborn child. She was in her third trimester of pregnancy when she died.

Lee said Laurean was well aware of the detrimental effect Lauterbach’s allegations would have on his career, regardless of whether their relationship was consensual. Adultery is a crime in the Marine Corps, which could have damaged Laurean’s career, Lee reminded the jury in his closing argument.

He said Laurean told a fellow Marine that he planned to trick Lauterbach into going to Mexico, discrediting her and salvaging his career. But Laurean’s plan was far more sinister, Lee said.

“The defendant wanted to be a good Marine, but as long as Maria Lauterbach was still out there he couldn’t,” Lee said. “As long as she was out there he would be looking over his shoulder.”

Lee said Lauterbach thought she was going to Mexico to live a happy life with the father of her child; instead Laurean sent her to a cold, dark grave in his backyard.

Laurean fled Onslow County on Jan. 11, 2008, hours before authorities discovered Lauterbach’s charred remains and those of her unborn child buried beneath a fire pit in his Half Moon community backyard.

Lee said not only did Laurean plan Lauterbach’s death, he tried to cover it up afterward. Lee reminded the jury how Laurean cleaned the crowbar, painted the garage walls, folded a blood-stained raft and put it away in the days after Lauterbach’s death.

“He then held a Christmas bonfire on the very spot he buried his victim,” Lee said.

Laurean’s attorney, Jacksonville lawyer Dick McNeil, said he was disappointed in

he verdict and that the judge did not allow certain evidence and that second degree murder was not offered to the jury as a possible verdict.

“We will be in appellate court within six months,” McNeil said.

During the trial, McNeil told the jury there was no question that Lauterbach was buried in the Laurean backyard; the real question is why she went to 103 Meadow Trail in the first place and who actually swung the crowbar the state maintains is the murder weapon.

McNeil painted his client as a good Marine who became the target of Lauterbach’s vindictiveness after he counseled her for being habitually late to work. She accused him of rape out of spite and later showed up at his home troubled, distraught and in violation of a protective order.

McNeil also said his client’s wife, Christina Laurean, had motive and opportunity. He said Christina Laurean, as a trained Marine, was totally capable of lifting and swinging the crowbar.

He questioned why the state — which learned just 19 days before his client’s trial began that Christina Laurean’s DNA could not be excluded from being found on the crowbar — had not pursued her as a suspect.

Lee said Christina Laurean, who he referred to as a cooperating witness, was not the one accused of rape. He said Christina Laurean did not buy cinderblocks and dig a hole in the backyard. He said it was also not Christina Laurean captured on surveillance footage trying to remove cash from Lauterbach’s bank account, an additional charge — bank card theft, but not armed robbery — the jury found Laurean guilty of.

Laurean was on the run in Mexico until being arrested there in April 2007. He was extradited in 2009. The state could not pursue the death penalty against him for Lauterbach’s death as part of an extradition agreement with Mexico.

The trial was held in Goldsboro after a judge moved proceedings out of Onslow County earlier this year due to pretrial publicity in Jacksonville.

Se ya Cesar, have a nice life without parole. It’s too bad the United States and North Carolina made a deal with Mexico during the negotiations to extradite you back to the US which saved your baby killing, woman murdering butt from the death penalty, or you almost certainly would have a date with the needle.

But I’m betting you won’t live a long, happy life in prison, especially when your “colleagues” discover you’re responsible for the death of a nearly full term fetus. Oh boy, won’t that be a sight to see, and it won’t be good for you Cesar, not good at all.