It’s been almost five years since the murder of beloved 2007-08 Student Body President Eve Carson, but the legal journey of one Durham man convicted of her murder has suddenly resurfaced.
On Tuesday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr.’s life sentence and ordered that he be resentenced due to factors stemming from his status as a minor at the time of Carson’s murder.
Miller v. Alabama
The N.C. Court of Appeals cited Miller v. Alabama in its Tuesday decision to allow Laurence Lovette to be resentenced in former Student Body President Eve Carson’s murder. This case:
- Sentencing a minor to life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment.
- A judge and jury must hold a hearing to consider the defendant’s age before handing down a life without parole sentence.
In December 2011, Lovette was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, felony larceny and armed robbery in connection with Carson’s March 2008 death. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The Court of Appeals opinion found no error in the trial, but concluded that the judge and jury were not given the opportunity to consider mitigating factors related to Lovette’s age before he was sentenced. Lovette was 17 years old at the time of the crime.
The opinion cited the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, in which the court ruled a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for people under 18 at the time of a crime is cruel and unusual punishment.
According to the opinion, a judge and jury must hold a hearing to consider the defendant’s age and other mitigating factors before handing down a sentence of life without parole.
The Supreme Court decision and the subsequent change to North Carolina law requires that Lovette, whose case was under appeal and not yet final, and about 50 other people across the state with mandatory life in prison sentences without parole be resentenced.
“I don’t think it was a surprise that the court would have ordered resentencing,” said Tamar Birckhead, a professor at the UNC School of Law.
“The state conceded that the new law applies to Mr. Lovette, and the new law calls for a sentencing hearing.”
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall, who was the prosecutor in Lovette’s case, said he was also not surprised by the Court of Appeals decision.
“We all knew that this was going to happen,” he said.
He said during the resentencing hearing, Lovette could receive the same sentencing — life without parole — or a lesser sentence.
Woodall, who has been involved with Lovette’s case since Carson’s death, said he expects the sentencing hearing to take place within the next 90 days.
“I think it’s going to come to a conclusion in the next few months,” Woodall said.
Birckhead said many states are undergoing similar resentencing processes as a result of the Supreme Court decision.
“Many states are grappling right now with how to bring their laws into compliance with that decision,” she said.
Carson 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 that day, taken to at least one ATM to withdraw money, and finally shot five times by Lovette and his co-defendant, Demario James Atwater.
Woodall contends that Lovette and Atwater went to Chapel Hill that night looking for someone to rob when they encountered Carson up late doing homework.
During the trial, a witness testified that Lovette said they killed Carson because “she had seen their faces.”
Atwater pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for her death in 2010 and is serving two life sentences.
Lovette is also charged with the January 2008 murder of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato.
Tuesday’s Court of Appeals decision brought back to the fore a case that many have tried to put behind them.
Carson was well known for her campus involvement, passion and kindness. Her death shocked the University’s campus, and thousands mourned her loss at various vigils and memorials.
Symbols of Carson’s love for UNC can still be seen throughout campus — in a small garden dedicated to her outside the Campus Y, in the Eve Carson Scholarship program started after her death, in various charity events held to honor her legacy — which has become synonymous with the ““Carolina Way”:http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2012/01/eve_carsons_case_is_closed_but_her_legacy_lives_on_through_the_carolina_way.”
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp worked with Carson during her time at UNC.
“I don’t have a comment as vice chancellor,” he said in an email. “As a person, I will simply say that I continue to miss Eve and would prefer to focus on the gift that was her life and not on what happens to her murderers.”
Assistant City Editor Katie Reilly contributed reporting.
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