Local News

Durham police reviewing investigation into Duke student's murder

Posted July 31, 2014

— A day after Durham prosecutors lost a high-profile trial involving the robbery and fatal shooting of a Duke University graduate student, the city's police chief said he is reviewing how the department handled the murder investigation.

"We are going back six years to look at what occurred and make sure whatever shortcomings that haven't been addressed will be addressed," Chief Jose Lopez said.

Lopez's statement comes following a comment Wednesday from Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried who acknowledged that the state's case against Laurence Lovette for the Jan. 18, 2008, murder of Abhijit Mahato had holes in it.

"We worked with what we were given," Dornfried told reporters after a jury found Lovette not guilty of the crime. "Obviously, the defense pointed out certain deficiencies. I would leave that to the police department to explain why those deficiencies existed."

Lopez said the police department has already made changes over the years in how it investigates cases, such as how police take notes and make identifications.

"We are addressing it six years later, and I’m hopeful the issues we see are things we've already seen in the changes that I've made," he said. "A lot of that stuff has changed."

Friends found Mahato, 29, dead in his apartment near Duke's campus approximately 21 hours after, investigators said, someone withdrew from an ATM more than $500 from his savings account.

Durham police charged Lovette on March 13, 2008, after he was arrested for the similar robbery and killing of Eve Carson, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior – a crime for which he was convicted in 2011 and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Earlier this year, Lovette rejected to a plea deal in Mahato's case, causing prosecutors to take to trial what North Carolina Central University law professor Irving Joyner says was a weak case.

"(Prosecutors do not) conduct a private investigation. They rely on the police department to bring them the evidence and then use that evidence to put together the best case that they can present," Joyner said.

The state called more than two dozen witnesses at trial, but they had no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses linking Lovette to the crime.

Their key witness – a woman who told police that she heard Lovette admitting to the killing – had her credibility attacked by defense attorneys who also raised other questions for jurors to consider, including why the state opted to call the lead investigator in the UNC murder case rather than the lead homicide detective in Mahato's.

"In this case, the defense attorney really exploited the discrepancies and the weaknesses and pointed those discrepancies out to the jury," Joyner said. "Those jurors understood what those discrepancies were."

Ultimately, the jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for eight hours before acquitting Lovette Wednesday morning.

"We went over every detail. There just was not enough evidence," the woman who served as Juror No. 1 said Thursday. "(The verdict) was one of the most difficult things we had to do."


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  • 678devilish Aug 1, 2014


  • disgusted2010 Aug 1, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Another clueless post. The police investigate and take the case to the DA. The DA is in charge of the investigation. The DA should not present the case to the grand jury until it is properly investigated. The DA has absolute discretion as to whether or not to prosecute a case in NC. The DA can ask for/demand more investigation. The DA, by statute, can request the assistance of the SBI in an investigation. The DA presents the case in court. The DA cross examines the defense's witnesses.

    See a theme here? SO why blame the police?

  • 678devilish Aug 1, 2014

    I believe starting Monday, there should no more news of this sort on Lovette. I believe we all have had enough of him.

  • mike275132 Aug 1, 2014

    Maybe they should have let Mike NiFong handle the Prosecution?

    Ah, the Total Competence of the Durham PD and Prosecutors.

    Durham, the Happiest Place on Earth

  • 678devilish Aug 1, 2014

    The family should absolutely fight for a retrial. Their son deserves that much since his life was taken.

  • 678devilish Aug 1, 2014

    government didn't prove its case?


  • 678devilish Aug 1, 2014

    Why are the reviewing the investigation? Are they saying now that the detectives messed up? What kind of chief would allow this to happen? This was a major crime. Had they investigated the young man's murder in the beginning, just maybe the late Ms. Eve Carson would be alive today. Police and detectives makes major mistakes all the time. Its time they do their job right or find another one not dealing with the public.

  • itlsss Aug 1, 2014

    A little late don't you think Chief Lopez?

  • howmuchisenough55 Aug 1, 2014

    I am not pleased with the verdict either. I am sure everyone of those jurors know in their hearts that Lovette is guilty of this crime; but their decision was based on what they were given to work with. The only comfort that can possibly come out of this is that Lovette is in prison and will stay in prison for the rest of his life. I feel for this young man's family...no justice for them in the loss of their son.

  • independent_thinker Jul 31, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Hearsay evidence?