Lovette defense fights to keep testimony from murder trial
Posted July 17, 2014
Updated July 18, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Defense attorneys for Laurence Lovette have asked a judge to dismiss the 6-year-old murder charge against their client, saying Durham prosecutors failed to provide to them information in which a witness claimed that Lovette admitted to killing Abhijit Mahato.
If Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin doesn't dismiss the case, attorney Karen Bethea-Shields said Thursday, she wants him to at least block the testimony so that it never reaches jurors' ears.
In a court document outlining her request, she said prosecutors violated rules of discovery, which essentially require each party in a case to turn over all evidence they have to the other side.
"It begs the question: What other important evidence has not yet been disclosed?" Bethea-Shields wrote.
It wasn't until after jury selection started Monday, Bethea-Shields said, that she got notes from a 2008 Chapel Hill police interview with the ex-girlfriend of a man who – along with Lovette – was arrested for killing Eve Carson, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, less than two months after Mahato's murder.
That woman told police that Lovette – 17 at the time – and another teen killed the Duke University graduate student and laughed when they saw news reports about the arrest of another man in the case.
Hardin did not make an immediate ruling on the defense's request, reserving it until Friday morning after he's able to view the police notes.
Meanwhile Thursday, attorneys continued selecting jurors in the 23-year-old Lovette's first-degree murder trial. Twelve jurors and three alternates were chosen, and Hardin set opening statements for 10 a.m. Friday morning.
Mahato, 29, of Tatangar, India, was a second-year graduate student at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, where he was studying computational mechanics. He had hopes of returning to India to teach at the university level.
Friends found him dead inside his apartment on Anderson Street, just outside the Duke campus, on the night of Jan. 18, 2008.
According to court documents, his wallet and cellphone were stolen, as well as an iPod that police found on Lovette when he was arrested March 13, 2008, for Carson's murder eight days earlier – a crime for which he's now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Friends of Mahato said bank statements showed two withdrawals from his savings account on the day they found his body. In Carson's case, Lovette and Demario Atwater kidnapped her and drove her to several ATMs to withdraw money before shooting her five times on a Chapel Hill street.
Prosecutors in February 2013 dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Stephen Lavance Oates, who was arrested five days after Mahato's death, because there was insufficient evidence to tie him to the crime.
Oates had maintained his innocence, saying his arrest was a case of mistaken identity, and prosecutors previously had acknowledged that Lovette told a witness he killed Mahato with someone named Phillip.
Police, however, have not made any other arrests in the case.