Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Laurence Lovette Jr., one of two men convicted in the death of former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, must be resentenced because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding automatic life sentences of offenders under age 18 at the time of a crime.
Lovette, 22, was sentenced Dec. 20, 2011, to life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree armed robbery in Carson's shooting death nearly five years ago.
The popular senior from Athens, Ga., was found dead in a neighborhood near the UNC campus on the morning of March 5, 2008.
In its ruling, the Appeals Court cited the Supreme Court decision – made after Lovette's conviction – in which the court held that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a minor at the time of a crime violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lovette was 17 at the time of Carson's death.
The Supreme Court ruled that judges must consider mitigating circumstances before sentencing someone under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole.
In response, North Carolina lawmakers passed a law that says the sentence should be life in prison with parole if someone under the age of 18 is convicted of first-degree murder solely on the basis of what's known as the felony murder rule.
In all other cases, the court must hold a hearing to consider mitigating circumstances, such as the defendant's age, immaturity and ability to benefit from rehabilitation, the Appeals Court said.
Lovette was convicted of first-degree murder not only on the basis of the felony rule but also on the basis of malice, premeditation and deliberation.
A resentencing date has not been set, but Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said it could happen within the next three months.
"We knew that he was going to have to be resentenced. We've known that since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling came out," Woodall said. "I'm very happy with the Court of Appeals ruling because they found no error."
Lovette could still face a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He could also be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour also sentenced Lovette to eight to 10 years in prison on the kidnapping charge and six to eight years on the robbery charge – sentences which were to run consecutive to the life prison term.
During closing arguments of Lovette's trial, prosecutors said Carson endured a nearly two-hour ordeal in which Lovette and Demario Atwater kidnapped her from her home and drove her in her SUV to two ATMs, where Lovette withdrew $700 from her bank account.
The pair then drove Carson to a neighborhood off East Franklin Street, a mile from UNC's campus, where Lovette shot her four times – in the right cheek, the back, the right arm and right buttock – with a handgun and Atwater fired the final and fatal shot through her right hand and head.
Surveillance video from a sorority house put Lovette and Atwater about a block away from Carson's home minutes before she was abducted. Security images from an ATM showed Lovette withdrawing money while Atwater held Carson hostage in the back seat, and Lovette made statements to friends that implicated him in the crime.
"This was so senseless," Woodall told reporters after the verdict. "I’ve heard and read about crimes that were brutal and meaningless, and there’s never been one more brutal and meaningless than this crime."
Atwater, 26, who is serving two life prison terms, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to state and federal charges in the case.
Unlike Atwater, Lovette was ineligible for the death penalty under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the execution of individuals under 18 years old at the time of a capital crime.
Lovette is also charged in the Jan. 18, 2008, shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, a mechanical engineering student from India, who was found dead inside his Durham apartment,
According to an arrest warrant, Mahato's cell phone helped Durham police link Lovette to the crime when he was arrested on March 13, 2008, in Carson's death.
Lovette has not gone to trial in Mahato's death. A status hearing is set for Feb. 18 in Durham County Superior Court.