Local News

Murder charge dropped in Duke student's 2008 death

Posted February 22, 2013

— Durham County prosecutors on Friday dismissed a first-degree murder charge against one of two men accused of killing a Duke University graduate student more than five years ago.

Stephen Lavance Oates, 24, had been charged in the Jan. 18, 2008, shooting death of Abhijit Mahato.

Durham police arrested Oates five days after Mahato was found dead inside his apartment near Duke, and prosecutors had said that ballistics evidence linked him to the crime.

The 9mm gun used to kill Mahato matched one used in two robberies where victims were shot in the legs. One of the victims identified Oates as the gunman.

Prosecutors said Friday that witnesses have since changed their stories, leaving them with insufficient evidence tying Oates to Mahato's death.

The dismissal means that Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. is the only person charged in Mahato's death.

Lovette, 22, is already serving time for the March 5, 2008, shooting death of Eve Carson, a former student body president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Oates has always maintained his innocence in Mahato's death, and prosecutors previously have acknowledged that Lovette told a witness he killed Mahato with someone named Phillip.

Abhijit Mahato One still charged in Duke student's slaying

"He and some of his buddies were robbing people with BB guns, not a real gun," said Oates' defense attorney, Mark Edwards. "I think what happened was, it was just a bad (identification) for the Hispanic guy that got shot, and whatever happened, Steve somehow got implicated in it, and police felt it was the same gun and charged him with Mahato.

"There's really nothing to tie him to it," Edwards said.

Oates has been out of jail since last May, and his attorney said he is working and staying out of trouble.

He is expected back in court in March to face four counts of assault with deadly weapon with intent to kill and one count each of robbery and obtaining property by false pretense in connection with the robberies.


This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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  • TVs_Deceit Feb 22, 7:57 p.m.

    A lot of people don't realize that the Ten Commandments are correctly interpreted as saying "You should not murder", -not- "You should not kill".

    There's a difference, although the core end result is the same, a physical body no longer functions.

    It's justifiable, or lawful, to kill someone that's trying to murder you.

    Yes, in part, both are technically "killing", but the -complete-, the whole definition of both, is where the difference in the two acts is found.

  • TVs_Deceit Feb 22, 7:38 p.m.

    mur·der (mûrdr)
    1. The unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice.


  • jimcool59 Feb 22, 7:32 p.m.

    Murder is not defined as unlawful, ya got google look it up.

  • TVs_Deceit Feb 22, 7:12 p.m.

    I meant "unlawful". Self defense is lawful use of force, and murder is defined as an "unlawful" act.

  • TVs_Deceit Feb 22, 7:09 p.m.

    jimcool59, you're the one that needs the IQ test. Murder is defined as "unjustifiable". Self defense is not unjustifiable.

  • jimcool59 Feb 22, 6:31 p.m.

    Did you know that you can murder someone in justifable self defense. Yeah its called self defense. Murder simply means to take anothers life. Protect you and yours against a violent home invasion and then tell me again you should get a life sentence. There should be a IQ test before people here are allowed to comment.

  • mcraineycrazies Feb 22, 6:12 p.m.

    im sorry but if you murder someone, you should automatically get a life sentence, this bum will be out in years and do it again

  • dontgetmestarted Feb 22, 5:02 p.m.

    "Terrible! So just because one person isn't a white blonde girl they don't deserve the same justice? This guy was shot in the head between the eyes. This had to have been an execution style murder and they're dropping first-degree murder charges? Racism and injustice alive and well in 2013."

    Really? Think about what you just said..."Racism and injustice alive and well in 2013" because they are DROPPING the charges against an AFRICAN AMERICAN because of lack of evidence connecting him to the crime. So what you're saying is they should KEEP him in jail for the crime when they have insufficient evidence linking him to it? Wait a minute...then you could claim racism and injustice was alive because there is no evidence against him and they were not dropping the charges because he is african american. Amazing. SMDH...STOP FUELING THE FIRE OF RACISM WHERE IT DOESN'T EXIST SO THAT WHEN IT DOES SHOW IT'S UGLY HEAD SOMEONE WILL ACTUALLY LISTEN!!!!!

  • MPS Feb 22, 4:52 p.m.

    "Racism and injustice alive and well in 2013." -zhongguoguy87

    DA who dropped charges: http://www.wral.com/news/news_briefs/story/10674008/

    If you think racism is involved you could always contact Eric Holder or Obama. Oh wait, that might not go anywhere LOL

    Abhijit Mahato was shot once in the head with a handgun, execution style. Eve Carson was shot several times, including a shotgun blast to the head. Is that not execution style? Maybe if you took a break from race-baiting you might find a difference in the strength of evidence, the age of the murderers, etc. between the two cases. Or you could just keep up the noobish race-baiting tactics while we laugh at your lack of self-education.

  • whatelseisnew Feb 22, 4:48 p.m.

    "Terrible! So just because one person isn't a white blonde girl they don't deserve the same justice? This guy was shot in the head between the eyes. This had to have been an execution style murder and they're dropping first-degree murder charges? Racism and injustice alive and well in 2013."

    Yeah you are doing a good job contributing. Read the story again. Originally two people were charged. One of those folks is still charged, it is just Oates that is no longer charged with murder. As the story says, they have not enough evidence to charge Oates.