Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio. (Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)
Among the female lawmakers working on military sexual assault legislation stands Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio — not the only man working to change military law and procedure to better protect assault victims, but likely the most prominent.
Since 2009, Turner has pushed legislation to strengthen laws, and worked last year with Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., to form the House Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. But he sees the mission as far from over.
The only sign of progress he sees is that military leaders appear to now grasp the depth of the problem. “There has been a shift,” he said. “We now have leaders in the military saying the same thing as members of Congress.”
Turner, a six-term congressman who never served in the military, says he is involved in this fight because of the grisly 2007 murder of a pregnant Marine lance corporal near Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The victim, Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, was a constituent of Turner’s. Lauterbach’s mother, Mary, contacted him to ask for help changing the law so what happened to her daughter did not happen to anyone else.
Turner said he’s convinced the military made mistakes in handling Lauterbach’s initial rape allegations “that put her at risk and ultimately led to her murder.”
The 20-year-old’s body was discovered in 2008, beaten and burned in a fire pit in the backyard of a fellow Marine, Cpl. Cesar Laurean, who has since been convicted of the murder. Lauterbach was eight months pregnant. Laurean fled to Mexico after the body was discovered, prompting an international manhunt that led to his capture.
Convicted of first-degree murder in a civilian jury trial, Laurean is serving a life sentence without parole.
Lauterbach had told Marine Corps authorities in 2007 that Laurean, a superior in her chain of command, raped her twice.
An October 2011 report by the Defense Department inspector general says a military protective order was issued to keep Laurean away from Lauterbach while the allegations were investigated, but the corporal was never charged with rape.
Witness interviews were not thorough and in some instances not conducted, the accused’s alibis for the dates Lauterbach reported the sexual assault occurred were not investigated and the reported crime scenes were not examined, the IG report concludes.
Additionally, the report says the sexual assault prevention and response program that was supposed to provide support was slow to respond, taking six months to even enter Lauterbach’s report in its database.
Turner said that when Lauterbach told authorities she was pregnant, possibly from the rape, the investigation was put on hold because she was too far along in the pregnancy to safely do DNA testing. Authorities decided to wait until she gave birth to determine if Laurean was the father, Turner said. She was murdered before giving birth. DNA testing after the death revealed Laurean was not the father.
The IG report includes examples of what could be reprisal for Lauterbach coming forward, including damage to her car and an assault by an unknown person in a parking lot. It says she was last seen alive Dec. 14, 2007, leaving a note that she was “going away” because she could no longer stand Marine Corps life. She was supposed to attend a counseling session on base Dec. 17. Her cellphone was found Dec. 20, outside Camp Lejeune’s main gate.
In a statement after Laurean’s 2010 conviction, Mary Lauterbach acknowledged her daughter “sometimes had problems with her credibility” but she blamed the Marine Corps not doing more to investigate the rape allegation. The mother said she intended to use her daughter’s death to “energize the military to change how they treat victims of sexual assault.”
Lauterbach’s case leaves Turner incensed about what he sees as a culture that does not support victims of rape and assault. Turner said he received one letter from the Marine Corps saying it did not do more to help Lauterbach because her accusation did not describe the rapes as being violent. “There is no such thing as a nonviolent rape,” Turner said.
During the manhunt for Laurean, Turner said, a Marine Corps spokesman, speaking of Lauterbach and Laurean, said the Corps “lost two good Marines that day.”
Turner found that offensive: “No, they hadn’t. They lost one good Marine and a murderer.” ■