Attorneys defending Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., a 21-year-old Durham man charged with the murder of former UNC Student Body President Eve Carson, urged jurors to question the reliability of witnesses who may have had personal interests at stake when they gave their original testimonies.
One of the witnesses defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields alluded to during her brief opening statement Wednesday is Shanita Love — a former girlfriend of Demario James Atwater — who Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall says provided key evidence linking Lovette to the crime.
Prosecutors say Atwater and Lovette kidnapped Carson from her home on March 5, 2008 – a night when she chose to stay home and work rather than go out with her roommates. Authorities say the pair then drove Carson in her Toyota Highlander to various ATM locations to withdraw $600 then another $100 – the account’s daily limit – before killing her.
Carson’s body was found at the intersection of Hillcrest Drive and Hillcrest Circle in Chapel Hill.
Lovette is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, armed robbery and felony larceny. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Atwater pleaded guilty to the murder in 2010 and is serving a life sentence in federal prison.
As Carson’s parents, brother and a handful of family friends sat behind him, Woodall began his opening argument by describing Eve as “a typical college student” who was messy, habitually late and prone to pulling all-nighters.
Continuing his statement, Woodall contends ATM records will show attempts to withdraw money in the days after Carson’s death. Prosecutors say a man pictured in ATM photos the night of the murder, who they believe to be Lovette, was dressed the same as a man who walked up to a Durham ATM to withdraw money from Carson’s account days later.
According to Woodall, Love, who like a handful of other witnesses has a criminal record, told investigators that she, Atwater, Lovette and another man drove to pick up the vehicle she and her boyfriend shared from a Durham auto repair shop on March 8, 2008.
Woodall said Love told investigators that during the trip, Lovette disposed of parts of a .25-caliber handgun in three separate locations.
Investigators accompanied Love to the three locations she mentioned and found pieces of the weapon at two of them, Woodall said.
In addition, Woodall said Love told prosecutors that Atwater and Lovette broke apart a sawed-off shotgun, which they nicknamed “the baby gauge,” by beating it against the side of her house one evening. Love said the men then put the pieces into a shopping bag and left without telling her where they were going.
Investigators received a tip about the location of the shotgun and were able to extract Atwater’s DNA from duct tape that was wrapped around the gun. Bethea-Shields emphasized that there is no DNA material tying Lovette to the crime scene.
The only genetic material that links Lovette to the case, she contends, was found on the driver’s side door of Carson’s car, where a spent .25-caliber shell case was found in Carson’s laptop under the driver’s seat.
Police also found four .25-caliber spent shell casings at the scene of Carson’s murder.
Bethea-Shields said in addition to the debatable reliability of witnesses and a lack of forensic evidence linking Lovette to the crime scene, questions of how many people are involved and how the stolen money was distributed will be enough to provide reasonable doubt.
Comparing the trial to a book with many different plot lines, Bethea-Shields told the jury that when Atwater was arrested he had $700 in twenties on his person. She also said that while Lovette knew Atwater, he was best associated with his younger siblings.
“The last chapter of the book is going to be written by you because that’s when you make a verdict,” she said. “It is our intention that you will have more questions than answers.”
Judge Allen Baddour said he estimates the trial will last around three weeks.
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