Local/State

Probably 2 trials for UNC, Duke suspect

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A second teen charged with the murder of UNC student, Eve Carson is also facing murder charges for Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

Durham police investigators have charged Laurence Lovette Jr., 17, of Shepherd Street with murder in the January 18 slaying of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

Lovette, who was also wanted for the murder of UNC student Eve Carson, was arrested early Thursday morning after a standoff with Durham police officers on Cook Road.

Police negotiators worked for over an hour and a half to establish communication with Lovette. When he was provided with telephone communications he finally began talking with the negotiators. Negotiators continued to talk with Lovette until he agreed to surrender peacefully around 4:15 a.m.

Lovette didn't live at the Cook Road home, but the activity and arrest scared many of the neighbors. "I watched the events unfold yesterday, and I thought to myself, wow, you know, let's be careful, keep our doors locked, but I never expected it to come out to this neighborhood," Marcia Pleasant said.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall tells Eyewitness News it is too early to tell where Lovette will be tried first.

Woodall tells Eyewitness News Reporter Tim Nelson that it's likely one county, either Orange or Durham, that will have to try Lovette before the other. He says it's conceivable but unlikely the teen would stand trial on both murders at the same time.

He says it will be a while before Orange and Durham County prosecutors decide which would go first. Eyewitness News has learned Durham County Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline is handling Lovette's murder trial in Durham.

Lovette is the second person charged with murdering Mahato. Mahato, 29, was found shot to death inside his apartment on Anderson Street shortly before midnight on January 18.

Five days later, police investigators charged Stephen Oates, 19, of Anthony Drive with murder. Oates was charged after he and three other males were arrested following a two-county chase on January 22. Oates has since been charged with more than a dozen armed robberies.

Lovette has been placed in the Durham County Jail without bond.

Lovette and Demario James Atwater, 21, of Durham, are both charged with first-degree murder in Carson's death. The 22-year-old from Athens, Ga., was found March 5 lying on a street about a mile from campus. She had been shot several times, including once in the right temple.

Atwater made an initial court appearance Wednesday in Hillsborough. Shackled at the ankles and waist, and with a public defender at his side, Atwater only whispered "yes" when asked if he understood the charges against him. His next court date was set for March 24, and he was ordered held without bond.

"I hope the arrest can ease the minds of some in the community," said Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall.

Atwater has been transferred to Central Prison for "safe keeping," officials said.

Lovette remained in Durham police custody Thursday morning, said Chapel Hill police Lt. Kevin Gunter. Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said Lovette will not be transferred over to the Chapel Hill Police Department at this time point in the investigation.

Atwater was arrested around 5 a.m. Wednesday as he left a home in Durham that police had placed under surveillance after getting a tip he was inside. He appeared to have a wound and a bruise on his right cheek at his court appearance. Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian Curran said officers had taken him to a hospital as "part of the evidence collection" process.

Curran would not say Wednesday which suspect detectives believe shot and killed Carson.

State records indicate both suspects are currently on parole. Lovette was given a suspended sentence in January for misdemeanor larceny and breaking and entering. Atwater was convicted of felony breaking and entering in 2005 and illegal possession of a firearm in 2007. He also received a suspended sentence.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez says even though two suspects are under arrest and one of them for the murder of two college students, the investigation is not over. Lopez responded to questions of gang activity in the area and if there is a connection.

"At this point in time, that's under investigation. I think the issue here is more the crime they did than the gang afilliation. I don't glorify gangs in any way. And I wouldn't give them credit for anything," Lopez said.

In the days after Carson's death, police focused their investigation on a several ATM and convenience store surveillance photos.

Police believe Lovette was pictured in two photos taken at an ATM, driving Carson's Toyota Highlander while Atwater is in the back seat. Police also believe Atwater was the suspect shown trying to use Carson's ATM card inside a convenience store.

Curran has previously declined to say when the surveillance photos were taken or the exact location of the ATM and convenience store, or if any money was successfully withdrawn from Carson's account.

Carson's death led to a massive outpouring of grief at North Carolina. The school's Board of Trustees offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in her death, and police received hundreds of tips after the first two photos were released over the weekend.

Carson was a prestigious Morehead-Cain scholar at North Carolina, where the biology and political science major was remembered by thousands who gathered last Thursday at two campus memorial services. Hundreds of mourners filled the First United Methodist Church in Athens on Sunday at a memorial service in her hometown.

The university said Wednesday a third memorial service will be held next week at the Smith Center, the school's basketball arena.

"Our interests are in seeing justice served and helping our community during this difficult time," university Chancellor James Moeser said in a statement. "We are thankful for all of the expressions of support pouring in for the Carolina family and our local community in these past few days. Those kind thoughts and prayers for Eve Carson's family and our community have made a difference."

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