HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — After six days of jury selection, prosecutors on Wednesday laid out their case in the trial of a Durham man accused of killing University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, detailing the hours before and days after the 22-year-old was found dead in a neighborhood near the campus.
Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 21, is charged with first-degree murder in Carson’s March 5, 2008, death. Authorities say he and another man, Demario Atwater, kidnapped Carson, took her to ATMs to withdraw money and then shot her five times.
Atwater, 25, pleaded guilty to state and federal charges in the case last year. Lovette, if convicted, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During a 40-minute opening statement, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall told jurors that investigators found Lovette's DNA on the driver-side door of Carson's Toyota Highlander. There were surveillance videos of him withdrawing money from Carson's bank account at ATMs in Chapel Hill and Durham, and a handgun linked to him matched bullets found in her body.
Within the past few months, Woodall said, a witness even told investigators that Lovette admitted to shooting Carson.
That witness, however, had been convicted of federal drug charges and agreed to talk in exchange for a lesser punishment, Lovette's defense attorney, Karen Bethea-Shields, said.
Other state witnesses, she added, also had criminal records, as well as motive and bias in cooperating with police. That included Atwater's girlfriend at the time, who gave detectives information early on in the investigation and led them to one of two weapons in the case.
"It is our contention that you will have more questions than answers by the time Mr. Woodall is finished with his case – questions about how many people were involved, where all the money is and if they have a case against Mr. Lovette," Bethea-Shields said.
A senior political science major and prestigious UNC Morehead scholar from Athens, Ga., Carson was last seen around 1:30 a.m. the day she died typing a paper in the living room of the house that she shared with three other students, Woodall said.
The last activity on her computer was at 3:37 a.m., he said, about seven minutes after a woman sitting in her car on nearby Rosemary Street saw two men walking down Friendly Lane where Carson lived.
At 3:55 a.m., approximately 2 miles away, someone withdrew $700 from Carson’s Bank of America account. Within the next 24 hours, several more attempts would be made at another ATM in Durham. An additional $700 would be withdrawn before the card was deactivated, Woodall said.
Back on Friendly Lane, one of Carson’s roommates, Justin Singer, returned home around 4:30 a.m. to find Carson's SUV missing, the house lights still on and Carson's books still in the den where he had left her working three hours earlier.
"The door was open, which would have been odd," he testified. "I had an uneasy feeling."
When he tried calling her cellphone, about 10 minutes later, he said, there was no answer. He thought that she might have gone to campus to print a paper.
At 5:08 a.m., Alexandria Bokinsky called 911 after hearing several noises behind her home on Marilyn Lane.
"I heard what I thought was a gunshot, followed by a woman's yell and then three other gunshots in rapid succession," Bokinksy, the state’s first witness, testified.
Chapel Hill police Sgt. Scott Falise testified that he found Carson a short time later lying in the street at Hillcrest Road and Hillcrest Circle about a mile from campus.
"There was a silver-dollar-sized hole in the side of her right temple, a hole in her right hand, and a large pool of blood," Falise said.
She had been shot in the cheek, arm, shoulder and buttocks with a .25-caliber handgun, Woodall said. The wound to Carson's right temple was from a sawed-off shotgun.
"That was the big wound the officers noticed initially," Woodall said.
Police weren’t initially able to identify Carson. She had no ID on her, only a gold locket around her neck and a white Nike "Be True" wristband, which led officers to think she might be a college student.
UNC put out an email alert to students later that day for help in identifying the woman, Woodall said.
Another of Carson's roommates, Anna Lassiter, was out of town and on a plane back to North Carolina when she received the alert.
"I didn’t really give it any thought," Lassiter testified.
But she eventually became worried when she never heard from Carson about having dinner that night.
"I started thinking about the email blast, and what concerned me was the bit about the gold locket (that Eve) wore every day," Lassiter said.
Lassiter and Singer then began looking for Carson and after exhausting all possibilities of finding her, went to police around 2 a.m. Thursday, March 6, 2008.
Investigators interviewed them and also showed Lassiter a photo.
"It was just her face with a gunshot through her cheek," Lassiter recalled.
"Did you know it was Eve?" Woodall asked.
"I did, but I did not want to admit it," Lassiter answered. "I said I was pretty sure it was Eve, but I wasn't certain."
From that interview, investigators tracked Carson's cellphone to some woods off U.S. Highway 15/501, about a mile and a half from where her body was found.
Later that day, they also found Carson's Highlander in a no-parking zone on North Street, just around the corner from where she lived.
Chapel Hill resident Kent Evans, the final witness to testify Wednesday, said he had noticed the SUV when he left for work around 6:30 a.m. the day before. What drew his attention to it, he said, was that it was positioned as if it had been parked in a hurry.
After seeing a news article on WRAL.com about the missing SUV, he said, he realized it was Carson’s.