Police say that Atwater and Lovette abducted Carson from her home early in the morning of March 5, took her in her Toyota Highlander to ATM machines to withdraw money, and then took her to the intersection of Hillcrest Road and Hillcrest Circle. The prosecution says they shot her five times and left her there, taking her car and card with them.
Records indicate that several subsequent attempts were made to withdraw money from Carson’s account, with $1,400 ultimately taken.
But it took law enforcement officials time and tips to arrive at those beliefs, and Lehew explained the process.
Building the case
Lehew said when she arrived at the March 5 crime scene, the young, female victim was wearing sweatpants, a gray T-shirt, tennis shoes, a locket and a “be true” bracelet. The woman bore no identification, and though the ground around her was wet her shoes and visible clothing was dry.
Lehew and her colleagues worked with the UNC Department of Public Safety and officials to release a description to the campus community in hopes of receiving identification, guessing that the woman was a University student.
That tentative identification came early the next morning, when Carson’s roommates – some of who testified in court last week – arrived at the police station to report Carson missing, photos of Carson in hand. Lehew said in one photograph, Carson was wearing the same locket as the victim wore.
Police obtained Carson’s phone number and vehicle information from her friends, Lehew said. They began canvassing the area for her Toyota Highlander, found in Chapel Hill, and searching for her cell phone, which was found in a wooded area off of U.S. 15-501.
As UNC students and faculty discovered and mourned the loss of the school’s beloved student body president March 6, Lehew and police spent the day searching Carson’s house on Friendly Lane and office in the Student Union for any evidence.
In Carson’s office, police found a Bank of America envelope that led them to believe she had an account there.
Lehew said police learned that Carson’s last internet use happened at 3:36 a.m. March 5, and Bank of America told them her first bank withdrawal that morning happened at 3:55 a.m.
Lehew said police obtained still photographs from Bank of America of a man withdrawing funds from Carson’s account. They sent the photograph out in a press release on March 8 to try to identify the man, and callers led them to believe that the man in the photograph might be Lovette.
Lehew said at that point, Atwater’s name was already number 12 in the list of suspects. Lovette was added as suspect number 13.
After more tips surfaced, Atwater’s name jumped to the top of the list and a warrant was issued for his arrest March 12.
After he was taken into police custody his then-girlfriend Shanita Love gave police more information, Lehew said. She said Love talked about Lovette’s involvement and showed investigators a photograph of “Alvin,” her name for Lovette.
Lehew said she recognized the man from the ATM photo.
“There was a strong likeness… to me, that that was the same individual in the photograph,” Lehew said.
Police released an arrest warrant for Lovette, who was taken into custody by Durham police.
Back and forth about Love
Lehew testified about receiving other information from Love during a series of interviews. Those tips included the locations of dismantled parts of the handgun police say was used to shoot Carson — pieces were found in two of the three places she indicated.
Defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields questioned Lehew about Love’s testimony, pointing out that Love came forward with additional information after cash rewards for information were announced.
The prosecution prompted Lehew to point out that Love provided privileged information that later proved accurate.
Bethea-Shields also pointed out that Love could have known the information she did because she was at the crime scene, though Lehew said police have found no evidence suggesting she was present.
Others testified Monday about the search for what officials say were pieces of the murder weapons, searches of cars that might have been connected to the crime and the search of Atwater’s mothers’ residence on Roxboro Street in Durham.
Patrick Daly, a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation in Durham, said he was present at the search of the Roxboro Street apartment.
He said several shotgun shell cases, bookbags, a notebook with writing related to gang and criminal activity and drug-related objects were found at the scene.
Shelethea Quick, a Chapel Hill Police Department forensic evidence specialist, talked about processing Carson’s car and evidence from the scene.
She said many items were found in Carson’s car, including a bag of clothing and Carson’s Lenovo Thinkpad – which had a bullet lodged in it – underneath the driver’s seat.
Monday’s other testimonies were more technically detailed and less emotional than those the jury heard last week, which included at times tearful testimonies from Carson’s roommate and from Love.