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Lovette defense: State 'fell short' on meeting burden of proof

Posted July 28, 2014

Laurence Lovette, on trial for first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting death of Abhijit Mahato, listens to hs defense attorney, Karen Bethea-Shields, present closing arguments to the jury on July 28, 2014.

— 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."


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  • geraniumposey Jul 29, 2014

    Reading the comments, I must say--Love is not on trial here; Lovette is on trial, and he is one guilty perp.

  • geraniumposey Jul 29, 2014

    The state did not "fall short."
    The parents of Laurence Lovette "fell short" in teaching their child right from wrong. It's astonishing. The neglect is astonishing.

  • 678devilish Jul 29, 2014

    The ignorance of people thinking a person who has committed a crime has no rights. Oh yes they do. But you will find out clearly when you are in that seat fighting for your right. The defense is just doing their job the best they can. Deal with it.

  • Drew Savicki Jul 29, 2014
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    Well plenty of convicted murderers didn't commit the crime. In some cases there was no crime.

  • David McIntee Jul 29, 2014
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    My reference to the judges was with respect to the lenient sentences and orders to release early.

  • jlh4jdj Jul 28, 2014

    Someone tell me again why I care about the rights of a convicted murder? Oh your right I don't. There are so many people who need help in our state and we are wasting all this money on this "person".

  • bill0 Jul 28, 2014

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    Reading that glowing description of her made be throw up a little.

    She was atwaters girlfriend - after he had already been convicted of multiple other crimes.. She helped hide them AFTER she saw the video of them on the news. She claims she was with them when they were destroying evidence. She was interview by police and lied repeatedly to them. She is not some innocent victim who just happened to see a crime occur.

  • bill0 Jul 28, 2014

    "Well, ask yourself this... why would she lie? Maybe she isn't.... and I believe that should be enough!!"

    Obviously, the idea that someone might not by lying is a far cry for being sure they are telling the truth.

    As to why she might be lying, well, she helped hide atwater after the eve carson murder. She saw them on TV and knew they were guilty, but still hid them and helped them dispose of evidence. The police also found a picture of her 3 yr old smoking pot and threatened to take him away. So yeah, she had a lot of reasons why she might be lying.

    She was interview by police at the time and gave a completely different story. She didn't come forward with this version until 9 months later.

    Fortunately, the prosecution presented additional evidence and isn't just counting on her testimony alone.

  • clintoflannagan Jul 28, 2014

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    Unfortunately, snitches get stitches.

  • lovetheheels Jul 28, 2014

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    It would be good if people like Ms. Love came forward immediately...but, think back on the investigation and evidence presented at the Eve Carson case. The names of the witnesses like Ms. Love was not made public most likely because there was tremendous risk to her children, family, etc. These ruthless gang members work together and protect each other. She likely had some kind of police protection before she testified in the Carson case. She probably had to wait until she felt safe coming forward, especially since she was central to the case against Lovette and Atwater and now Lovette again.