Camp Lejeune Marine Murder Trial Opening Statments

Cpl. Cesar Laurean (AP Photo/U.S. Marine Corps, file)

GOLDSBORO, N.C. (CBS/AP) An attorney for a former Marine accused of killing his pregnant colleague portrayed the slaying Thursday as an impulsive act caused by the victim's lies, but still challenged prosecutors to prove his client committed the crime.

"Life is not generally black and white. There's a lot of gray. And that's what there is in this case," Dick McNeil, lawyer for Cesar Laurean, told jurors in his opening statement.

Laurean, 23, is charged with killing Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, of Vandalia, Ohio, and burning her body in a firepit behind his home in December 2007. He has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if convicted.

McNeil told that prosecutors must prove Laurean killed Lauterbach after she surprised him at his home. The victim had previously accused Laurean of raping and impregnating her, which McNeil said was a lie. Laurean was never charged with rape.

Laurean and Lauterbach were personnel clerks when she told officials that he raped her. She later recanted a claim that he impregnated her, and DNA tests revealed Laurean was not the father. Lauterbach was about eight months pregnant when she died.

District Attorney Dewey Hudson challenged McNeil's characterization of Lauterbach as an immature woman with a history of theft and lies who was under increased pressure from a mother who wanted her to give up her child for adoption.

"This is a murder case. How is it possibly relevant whether she's stolen things or lied?" Hudson asked after Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III ordered jurors out of the courtroom.

McNeil said the first-degree murder charge required prosecutors to prove Laurean planned the slaying and said months of earlier provocation resulting from Lauterbach's rape allegation ought to be presented to jurors.

District Attorney Hudson told jurors investigators found Lauterbach's blood in Laurean's garage.

The trial was moved about 55 miles from Jacksonville, home of Camp Lejeune, to Goldsboro due to extensive pretrial publicity.

Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty so Mexico would return Laurean to the U.S.

Complete Coverage of the Marine Murder Trial on Crimesider