Lovette defense: State 'fell short' on meeting burden of proof
Posted July 28, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Laurence Lovette killed Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato more than six years ago, defense attorneys said Monday during closing arguments in the 23-year-old's first-degree murder trial.
"The state promised you that they'd give you all the elements you need to return a guilty verdict in this case," attorney Karen Bethea-Shields told jurors. "They fell short of that promise, and because they fell short of that promise, they did not meet their burden of proof."
But Durham County prosecutors said Lovette, without a doubt, targeted the 29-year-old Mahato – an engineering student from Tatangar, India – on the morning of Jan. 18, 2008, drove him to an ATM, drained his savings account and stole a camcorder, cellphone and other items before shooting him once in the head.
"Not only did the defendant take items from Abhijit Mahato," Durham County Assistant District Attorney Stormy Ellis said during her 20-minute closing argument. "He took one of the most precious things we all have. He took his life. He took from society anything Abhijit Mahato could have engineered in his future. He took that from the world."
Although there was no physical evidence, the circumstantial evidence – stemming from a home break-in the night before the crime to the copycat robbery all the way to the shooting death two months later of Eve Carson – points only to one person, prosecutors said.
"All of this sticks to him because he did it," Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said.
After nearly three hours of arguments, the jury of 10 women and two men retired Monday afternoon to deliberate verdicts on charges of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Defense attorneys spent most of their time Monday reminding them of the lack of solid evidence – DNA, fingerprints and eyewitnesses – and attacking the credibility of the state's key witness, whose corroborated testimony tied together all of the evidence the state did have.
That witness, Shanita Love, said that Lovette admitted to robbing and killing Mahato and also said he stole a car that police believe Lovette used to commit the crime.
A shell casing found next to Mahato's body was fired from the same 9 mm Luger handgun that was used in a shooting a day after Mahato's death. Love testified that Lovette also admitted to that shooting as well.
Defense attorney Kevin Bradley, however, said Love had her own motive for going to police nine months after Mahato's death. She said she did so because she knew it was the right thing to do.
But Bradley said her only reasoning was to protect herself from possible prosecution.
"The state wants you to believe it's weighing on her," Bradley said. "Do you really believe that? Do you believe she cares about anybody but Shanita Love?"
Lovette, 23, is one of two people already serving life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted in December 2011 for Carson's death. The 22-year-old University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior was shot five times on the morning of March 5, 2008, after she, too, was kidnapped and taken to several ATMs.
Love's testimony was also critical in that case and was central to the current trial.
"Don't get it twisted. This case is not about the murder of Eve Carson," Bethea-Shields said. "The state has played a shell game of presenting you with evidence of another case. Don't be confused."