Durham prosecutor: Duke student's death 'intentional, deliberate, premeditated'
Posted July 18, 2014
Durham, N.C. — 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.