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Durham prosecutor: Duke student's death 'intentional, deliberate, premeditated'

Posted July 18, 2014

Retired Durham police forensic investigator Catherine Lipsey, left, and Durham Assistant District Attorney Stormy Ellis show jurors on July 18, 2014, in the murder trial of Laurence Lovette a bullet hole in a pillow that authorities say covered the face of Abhijit Mahato when they found his body in his apartment on Jan. 18, 2008.

— The shooting death six years ago of a Duke University graduate student wasn't the result of a robbery gone awry but was an "intentional, deliberate and premeditated murder of a man who did nothing wrong," prosecutors said Friday in opening statements of Laurence Lovette's first-degree murder trial.

"If looks could kill, from the first moment Laurence Lovette laid eyes on Abhijit Mahato on Jan. 18, 2008, Abhijit was a dead man," Durham County Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said.

Friends found Mahato, 29, that night lying in the bedroom of his Anderson Street apartment near Duke's campus with a pillow – with a soot burn from gunfire – over the right side of his face and a bullet wound between his eyes.

There were no signs of a struggle, Dornfried said, and there was no forensic evidence – no fingerprints or DNA – that would be presented at trial that jurors could see as being "a smoking gun."

What linked investigators to the 23-year-old Lovette, however, was Shanita Love, whose boyfriend was arrested – along with Lovette – and convicted in the robbery and shooting death of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson two months after Mahato's death.

Love told police she heard Lovette, 17 at the time, talking about how he and another teen saw Mahato outside his apartment, robbed him and killed him, Dornfried said. Lovette even talked about the crime when they drove past Mahato's apartment on Love's way to work.

"He said, 'He's still in there,'" Dornfried said. "Abhijit's body lay in his apartment, and those that knew him, those that loved him, had no idea what had happened."

Lovette was charged March 13, 2008, when he was arrested for Carson's murder – a crime for which he's now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields' opening statements were brief.

She said very little about the crime – noting three withdrawals were made from Mahato's bank account – but told jurors to use their common sense and reason when they decide a verdict.

Likening evidence in the case to a basket full of ingredients for a cake, she talked about the state's burden of proof and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"There are various people that will say things about Mr. Lovette – that he was involved – and these same people, on different dates, will say that he wasn't involved," she said. "You have to determine if that was a good ingredient or a bad ingredient – credible evidence or not credible."

Friday's opening statements come after nearly a week of jury selection and a number of defense challenges over the past year to the state's case, including unsuccessful bids to move the trial from Durham.

And earlier this week, Bethea-Shields asked Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin to dismiss the charge against Lovette, accusing prosecutors of not turning over until this week the police notes of a Chapel Hill police detective who interviewed Love on Oct. 18, 2008.

Hardin denied that request but ruled prosecutors can't question witnesses about that particular interview.

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  • Brian Hill Jul 18, 2014

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    Pretty much. They lost legitimacy with Marbury v Madison where they gave themselves power the constitution doesn't give them.

  • sjb2k1 Jul 18, 2014

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    i don't think arbitrary is the word you're looking for here. unless you really think all nine justices just close their eyes, spin around, and play pin the decision on the case.

  • Brian Hill Jul 18, 2014

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    The arbitrary dictates of the high judicial tyrants do not constitute law.

  • aqualung Jul 18, 2014

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    You are right. People claim to "know" the constitution and blah blah blah, but they don't understand the law at all.

  • aqualung Jul 18, 2014

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    This has nothing to do with liberals or conservatives. The law states that underage murderers do not receive the death penalty. Get over your constant politicizing and just be realistic about what IS and what ISN'T.

  • LetsBeFair Jul 18, 2014

    Shanita, if you're out there reading these blogs, ... so many people are very proud of you coming forward with this evidence that makes our streets safer. Stay on the right side of the law sweetie. bless you.

  • Mee Jul 18, 2014

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    I have never killed 2 people in cold blood.

  • Monkey_Joe Jul 18, 2014

    "disturbed by a government that cares not what quality and direction it's public is degenerating to. They just pave the way for production of more through enabling."

    I dont understand. What is the government enabling? How is the government supposed to have prevented crimes? It's already to the point where almost everything is illegal in some sense. Maybe they are too busy going after victimless crimes... sorry, I'm not able to effectively postulate what your point might be.

  • Tim Pearce Jul 18, 2014

    All the fingers of blame point. While I am sorry for the death of this happy looking fellow I am at the same time disturbed by a government that cares not what quality and direction it's public is degenerating to. They just pave the way for production of more through enabling. And deal with situation after situation of deeds like this and worse.

  • Holy Carp. Jul 18, 2014

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    Because justice needs to be served for this innocent victim, just as Eve Carson got hers. It doesn't matter if he's already serving life for something else. Abhijit's family deserves closure, too.

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