Lovette sentenced to life in prison for Carson murder
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A jury found Laurence Lovette guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting death of UNC student body president Eve Carson.
They also found Lovette guilty of kidnapping, robbery with firearm, felony larceny and possession of stolen goods.
Following the jury's verdict, Judge Allen Baddour sentenced Lovette to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"This a difficult day," Judge Baddour said. "I sense from the family of Ms. Carson that they sense the inadequacy of the court system to make this situation right. This act has no place in our society. It is not activity that we can allow to occur in our society. The life Ms. Carson led was too short. But, I know she continues to be an inspiration for thousands in this community and across this country. That is a small consolation."
Carson's family and Lovette declined to make a statement following the ruling.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Lovette and Demario Atwater kidnapped Carson from her Chapel Hill home on March 5, 2008 and then drove her around in her SUV to various ATMs in Chapel Hill and Durham to withdraw cash from her accounts. They then killed her and dumped her body on a Chapel Hill street.
Earlier this year, Atwater took a plea deal on federal charges related to the Carson's kidnapping, carjacking and murder, and is currently serving a life sentence.
In closing arguments Monday, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said that the testimony and evidence presented over the last two weeks clearly showed Lovette's guilt.
"It's hard to imagine a more tragic case than this," Woodall told the jury. "It's hard to imagine what Eve went through that night."
"What the defendant did to Eve Carson is greedy, miserable, and cruel," assistant prosecutor James Rainsford said during his closing arguments.
Rainsford told jurors the evidence against Lovette is overwhelming. He started with bank surveillance video that included a picture investigators said was Lovette trying to use Carson's ATM card while Atwater was holding her at gunpoint in the back seat.
However, Lovette's attorney Karen Bethea Shields said the person in the bank surveillance photo is not Lovette.
In her closing statement, Bethea-Shields said the state's key witnesses had reasons to lie and suggested a DNA swab linking Lovette to Carson's SUV had been mishandled.
The defense team called no witnesses of its own during the trial, including Lovette. But Bethea-Shields questioned why prosecutors didn't call Atwater to the stand.
"Why?" she asked. "What does he have to lose? He's serving time. Who is he trying to protect?"
In their investigation, police initially had few leads, but the release of a photo from the ATM camera and a sizable reward brought the cooperation of informants who led them to Lovette and Atwater.
Key witnesses for the prosecution were Shanita Love, Atwater's live-in girlfriend, and Jayson McNeil, a Durham man with a long criminal record.
Love said she was with Lovette as a group drove around Durham days after the killing, tossing out pieces of the disassembled pistol. She later led investigators to areas where they recovered enough of the weapon to match it to slugs pulled from Carson's body and shell cases found near her body and under the seat of her SUV.
Bethea-Shields suggested Monday that Love was lying to cover-up her own role in Carson's death, even suggesting she might have been in the car with her boyfriend the night Carson was killed.
"This is a lady who knows a lot about the crime before it is publicized," Bethea-Shields said. "How did she know so much?"
The defense also suggested a mystery suspect, not identified by police, could have been the one to accompany Atwater. A hair from an individual who was never identified was found in Carson's Highlander.
However, an agent from the State Bureau of Investigation testified that she recovered DNA from a swab of the inside of the driver's side door matched Lovette's genetic profile.
Bethea-Shields told jurors that the DNA match was suspicious, coming after the state lab possibly mishandled a genetic sample taken from Lovette following his arrest.
Woodall said the presence of Lovette's DNA in Carson's vehicle, which was ditched soon after she was shot, made Atwater guilty of felony murder even if he had not shot her. Under state law, a defendant is responsible for the death of a person if it happened during the commission of another felony, such as robbery and kidnapping.
"There's no question that the defendant was in that Toyota Highlander and that the defendant was at the crime scene," Woodall said. "The evidence, and there's a lot of evidence in this case, all point in the same direction -- to the defendant."
Reacting to Tuesday's verdict, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said: "Eve's death was a tremendous loss - for us at Carolina and for her family and friends. She did so much good in the short time she was with us. That's what I'll always remember.