More than three years after her death, the second man accused of former Student Body President Eve Carson’s murder has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Following eight days of testimony and less than three hours of deliberation, a jury found Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 21, guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, armed robbery and felony larceny in connection with Carson’s March 2008 death Tuesday morning.
“This was an absolutely senseless murder.” District Attorney Jim Woodall said. “The citizens from this state need to be protected from Laurence Lovette.”
Judge Allen Baddour sentenced Lovette to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder, and he will serve additional sentences for the kidnapping and robbery charges.
“The life that Ms. Carson led was too short, but I know that she continues to be an inspiration, not only for her family but for thousands in this community and across this country,” Baddour said.
Lovette has sat quietly in the Hillsborough courtroom every day for the past three weeks while law enforcement officials and close friends testified against him.
Carson, a 22-year-old Morehead-Cain Scholar from Athens, Ga. well known for her campus leadership and involvement, was found shot to death on the morning of March 5, 2008 in a Chapel Hill neighborhood about a mile from campus.
Prosecutors say she was abducted from her off-campus home in the early hours of March 5, taken to at least one ATM to withdraw money, and finally shot five times by Lovette and his co-defendant Demario James Atwater.
Atwater plead guilty to first-degree murder for her death in 2010 and is serving two life sentences.
Carson’s violent death shocked the University’s campus, and students came out by the thousands to mourn the loss of the beautiful girl with the bright future.
Carson’s family thanked the court and the jury, but declined further comment to the court.
Lovette and Atwater, both of Durham, had long criminal histories and were in and out of the probation system throughout their teenage years.
Lovette is also charged with the January 2008 murder of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato, who was found shot to death in his off-campus apartment.
On the night of Carson’s murder, District Attorney Jim Woodall said Lovette was looking for someone to rob, and he planned to kill the person to hide the evidence.
But it was chance that placed Carson — one of the most well-known faces on the University’s campus — into their path.
After attending a UNC basketball game on the evening of March 4, she returned to her home on Friendly Lane.
With only a few weeks left in her term as student body president, she was busy, and her tendency to procrastinate led her to stay home by herself and study that night.
At about 1:30 a.m. on March 5, Carson’s roommate Justin Singer returned home and saw her studying on the couch.
Her last internet use was at 3:37 a.m. to access Facebook.
Prosecutors believe that at about 3:40 a.m., Carson was leaving her house, possibly to print a paper from her student government office on campus, which friends say she often did.
A surveillance video from a sorority shows two men in dark, baggy clothing walking towards Friendly Lane at about 3:33 a.m.
It is there that prosecutors say Atwater and Lovette saw Carson going towards her Toyota Highlander.
The two men “rushed” her car, and Lovette took the driver’s seat while Atwater held Carson hostage in the backseat at gunpoint, according to a testimony by Lovette’s childhood friend Jayson McNeil.
At about 3:55 a.m., an ATM surveillance video from the Bank of America on Willow Drive in Chapel Hill shows an image of a man who prosecutors say is Lovette attempting to use an ATM card several times.
An enhanced surveillance video from the ATM shows two figures, who prosecutors say are Carson and Atwater, in the backseat.
Whether she was taken to any other ATM’s is still unclear, but a total of $1,400 was withdrawn from her account.
For the more than an hour that Carson was in the car with the two men, she pleaded and prayed for her life, even asking her murderers to pray with her, McNeil said Lovette told him.
Prosecutors say she was then taken to a wooded area about a mile from campus, where she was shot five times.
Woodall contends Lovette fired the first four shots to Carson’s right shoulder, arm, buttocks, and cheek from a .25 mm handgun.
The fifth shot, fired from a sawed-off shotgun, penetrated her right hand and temple, destroying parts of her brain that medical examiners say were necessary for life functions.
Prosecutors believe Atwater fired the shotgun, which witnesses called the “baby gauge.”
A sixth shot hit her Lenovo laptop, and a bullet was found lodged in the computer by police.
Carson’s body was found at the intersection of Hillcrest Road and Hillcrest Circle by police the next morning, and it took them another day to identify her.
Filling in the gaps
Throughout the course of the trial, testimonies from witnesses close to Lovette and Atwater helped fill in the gaps of what happened on the night of Carson’s murder, further linking Lovette to the murder.
On one of the most emotional days of testimony McNeil, a friend of Lovette’s and a convicted drug dealer, provided details about the murder in court.
McNeil’s said his involvement with Carson’s death began unknowingly on the night of March 4, 2008, when Lovette asked him for a ride to Chapel Hill.
Lovette also contacted McNeil on March 5, the day of Carson’s murder, and said he had an ATM card to use.
On the day of Atwater’s arrest, Lovette called McNeil and asked him to pick him up.
McNeil said Lovette sounded anxious and said repeatedly “They got Rio, they got him.”
After he picked Lovette up, he proceeded to tell him about the murder of Carson, giving details such as how they came across her, how she pleaded with them, and why they decided to kill her.
Lovette told McNeil that they killed her because “she had seen their faces.”
Shanita Love, Atwater’s live-in girlfriend at the time of the murder, was also a key witness for the prosecution, recounting to the jury what Atwater told her about Carson’s death in the days following the murder.
Love gave multiple statements to police officials after Atwater’s arrest on March 12, 2008. Her testimonies became key in charging both Atwater and Lovette.
She said Lovette, who she referred to as Alvin, admitted in conversation to “hitting”, or shooting, Carson.
Love also told the court details of how the two men disposed of the what prosecutors say were the murder weapons.
Lovette disposed of pieces of the .25 mm gun in three different locations when she, Atwater, Lovette and another man went to pick up their truck from a Durham auto shop on March 8, 2008, Love said.
She said Atwater and Lovette broke apart the sawed-off shotgun by hitting it on bricks after their pictures began to appear on the news in connection with Carson’s death.
Investigators were able to find two of the pieces of the .25 mm gun at the locations Love described to them.
Several State Bureau of Investigation agents also gave testimonies in court, though most of their testimonies showed no scientific evidence linking Lovette to Carson’s SUV.
But on Wednesday, an SBI agent said DNA evidence found on the car door of Carson’s Toyota Highlander was a “thousand trillion times” more likely to be a match for Lovette than anyone else in the state.
Other testimonies, surveillance videos, and cell phone records helped place Lovette and Atwater near her home on Friendly Lane on the night of her murder.
At the beginning of the trial, 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.
During closing arguments Monday, Bethea-Shields noted the absence of testimony from Atwater, his family, and Justina Staton-Williams — a close friend of Love who provided some of the first details about Atwater’s whereabouts after Carson’s murder.
Throughout the trial, Bethea-Shields has also questioned the motive and credibility of key witnesses close to Lovette such as Love and McNeil.
McNeil and another witness received immunity packages for lighter sentences in crimes they are charged with for their testimonies.
The defense contends that some of the state’s key witnesses — including Love and McNeil — may have made parts of their testimony up to protect themselves and implicate Lovette.
During closing arguments, the defense also argued that Atwater and Love may have 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.
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.
Defense attorney Karen Bethea-Sheilds presented no evidence in the trial, and Lovette also waived his right to testify.
Lovette was 17 at the time of Carson’s murder, and therefore was not eligible to receive the death penalty.
But during sentencing, Bethea-Shields asked Baddour not to sentence Lovette to consecutive sentences and life without parole — drawing on Lovette’s age and the death of his father as reasons to consider a lighter punishment.
“This verdict will be punishment for the rest of his life,” Bethea-Shields said.
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