HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — The prosecution and defense teams in the murder trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. agree that the shooting death of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson more than three years ago was a tragedy.
But that's the only thing attorneys for 21-year-old Lovette agree about with the state.
They argued Monday before a crowded courtroom that included Carson's parents and Lovette's mother that their client could not be linked beyond a reasonable doubt to Carson's March 5, 2008, slaying and that there are still unanswered questions about that morning and about key witnesses.
After 43 witnesses and seven days of testimony, it's now up to a jury of seven men and five women to decide whether Lovette is guilty of first-degree murder and several other charges in Carson's death.
"What the defendant did to Eve Carson was greedy, miserable and cruel. It was useless, and that's what murder is," attorney James Rainsford told jurors in closing arguments that lasted nearly four hours. "The evidence presented in this case allows us to literally look back in time to March 5, 2008, and look as these tragic events unfolded."
Prosecutors argued that Lovette and another man, Demario Atwater, kidnapped Carson, 22, in the early hours of that morning, and took her in her 2005 Toyota Highlander to ATMs to withdraw money from her bank account.
At a Chapel Hill Bank of America branch, cameras captured the three on video. Lovette was driving Carson's SUV, and an enhanced copy of that video showed Carson in the back seat.
"She's putting her head down with her hands up (praying)," Rainsford said. Carson was wearing a white "Be True" bracelet she got at a Nike fan appreciation event two days earlier.
Atwater was also in the back seat, the video showed. "He looks nervous. He's got a hostage back there," Rainsford added.
Lovette, however, did not appear nervous.
"That's a calm customer," Rainsford said. "He's got a kidnapped stranger in the back seat. He's robbed her. He's in possession of a stolen vehicle. He's already stolen her ATM card, and now he's taking her money."
After seven attempts and withdrawals totaling $700, Rainsford said, Lovette then drove back to Chapel Hill, where he and Atwater shot Carson five times in a densely wooded neighborhood about a mile from UNC.
Atwater, 25, pleaded guilty last year to state and federal charges in the case and is serving two life prison terms. Lovette faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is found guilty.
Lovette's defense attorneys, who called no witnesses, argued the state came up short in proving its case.
They said DNA linking Lovette to Carson's SUV had been mishandled. Witness testimony was inconsistent with earlier statements to police and witnesses who should have testified did not, including Atwater.
"He could have answered many of the questions that you should still have," defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields said. "He knows who was with him. He knows the sequence of the events in which things happened."
"The question I have is, 'Why? What does he have to lose? … Who's he trying to protect?'" she added. "That's the only reason Demario Atwater did not come put his hand on the Bible and swear to you what happened to Ms. Carson on March 5, 2008."
It was a deliberate move by prosecutors, she said, who chose only to call witnesses who could help them prove their case.
Some of those witnesses couldn't be trusted, Bethea-Shields said, because they had criminal records and ulterior motives for testifying.
That included Lovette's childhood friend, Jayson McNeil, who admitted on the witness stand that he came forward this year to get a reduced prison sentence on federal drug charges.
McNeil testified that Lovette told him how he shot Carson and about how she wanted to pray with Lovette and Atwater.
Shanita Love, Atwater's ex-girlfriend, was another questionable witness, defense attorneys said. She was among many who testified that the Bank of America surveillance video shows Lovette in Carson's SUV.
Love's testimony also led investigators to a .25-caliber pistol and 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun that were linked to Lovette and Atwater and to Carson's death.
Bethea-Shields suggested Love knew so many details that were never publicly released because she was with Atwater at the time of the crimes. Love only implicated Lovette 15 days after Carson's death, because she thought police might also arrest her on a charge of accessory to murder, Bethea-Shields said.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said jurors should examine the witnesses' credibility. Lovette chose those witnesses when he asked them to help him, Woodall said.
"When we're calling witnesses to talk about throwing away murder weapons, we don't get to call the choir boys and the good Samaritans to court to testify about that," he said. "The people that help you throw away murder weapons are the people you think are going to keep their mouth shut and people who don't trust the police."
Prosecutors sought to show that Lovette shot Carson four times – in the right cheek, the back, the right arm and right buttock – with a handgun and that Atwater fired the final and fatal shot through her right hand and head.
Woodall told jurors that under North Carolina law, that even though Lovette didn't fire the fatal shot, he was also responsible because he was "acting in concert" – meaning he was working with Atwater to commit a crime.
The two had gone to Chapel Hill from Durham that night to rob someone, he said. They kidnapped Carson and killed her.
"That night, the defendant and Demario Atwater decided that they would invade what was Eve Carson's, that they would take what was Eve Carson's," Woodall said.
They took away her future, her friends, her family and her right to make decisions for herself, he said.
"Why? Because she had seen them, and she could identify them," Woodall told jurors.
"It's hard to imagine a more tragic case than this. It's hard to imagine what Eve Carson was going through in those last moments that night," he continued. "Use your reason and common sense and consider all of the evidence. When you look at all the evidence in this case, you will return verdicts of guilty of every crime that's charged."