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Sunday January 17th

Defense questions Atwater's absence in closing argument

In closing arguments for the trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. Monday, defense attorneys pointed out a “missing chapter” absent from the state’s presentation of evidence — the man already convicted of Eve Carson’s murder.

Demario Atwater, Lovette’s co-defendant, pleaded guilty in 2010 to the murder of former student body president Carson and is now serving two life sentences in federal prison.

He was not called by the state to testify during the eight days of testimony.

Lovette is on trial for the murder of Carson, who was found shot to death in an intersection about a mile from campus on March 5, 2008.

Prosecutors say Lovette and Atwater abducted Carson from her Chapel Hill home in the early hours of March 5, took her to at least one ATM to withdraw money, and finally shot her to death in a Chapel Hill neighborhood.

The prosecution contends that Lovette shot Carson four times with a .25-caliber handgun, and Atwater fired a fifth, fatal shot from a sawed-off shotgun to Carson’s right temple.

Defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields noted Atwater’s absence and the absence of other witnesses potentially connected to the case.

“Demario Atwater was not brought into this court even after pleading guilty,” Bethea-Shields said. “He could have answered many of the questions many of you still have.”

During opening arguments, Bethea-Shields said she planned to show jurors that there would be more questions than answers at the end of the trial. She said those questions would provide jurors with reasonable doubt.

Justina Staton-Williams, a close friend of Atwater’s former girlfriend Shanita Love, also was not called to testify. The defense asked jurors to question why, as Staton-Williams provided some of the first details about Atwater’s whereabouts in 2008.

The defense also contended that Atwater and Love pinned the murder on Lovette, who was a close friend of Atwater’s siblings.

“This case is about blaming the kid that hung out around (Atwater’s siblings),” defense attorney Kevin Bradley said Monday.

Bradley questioned the reliability of evidence presented by the state, stating that some witnesses’ testimonies did not match up and may have been made up to protect themselves.

“This case is a textbook for how an innocent young man …can be convicted of crimes hat he had no involvement with at all,” Bradley said.

But District Attorney Jim Woodall told jurors to ignore questions from the defense regarding the credibility of witnesses, some of whom have criminal records.

He said the witness’ criminal history was likely a reason Lovette chose them to help to dispose the weapons.

“You don’t get the choir boys and good Samaritans to help you throw away murder weapons,” he said. “The key is the information they give line up with the evidence.”

Prosecutor James Rainsford said during closing arguments that the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Lovette is guilty of first-degree murder.

Rainsford argued that at least five people close to Lovette positively identified him in the ATM surveillance photo from the Bank of America on Willow Drive — including Lovette himself, who recognized the photo on the news and said “oh sh-t”, according to the testimony of Shanita Love.

But Bradley said that different shadings in the Willow Drive ATM surveillance video do not match Lovette’s skin color, or the color of the gloves he was wearing at the time.

Bradley said the video depicts a male with a skin tone too light to be Lovette.

Bradley also said the man shown in a sorority house surveillance video, who prosecutors say is Lovette, is too tall to be Lovette, who is 5-foot-10-inches tall.

Bradley also called into question the validity of expert testimony, arguing to the jury that SBI investigator Ivy McMillan and FBI analyst Michael Sutton among others were erroneous in their work and testimony in the case.

On Thursday, the defense decided to present no evidence in the case, and Lovette waived his right to testify.

Later today, jurors will receive jury instructions and be asked to reach a verdict.

Lovette is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, felony larceny and armed robbery. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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