HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. will spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Marie Carson more than three years ago.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for less than three hours before returning its verdict Tuesday morning.
Lovette, 21, sat motionless as the court clerk read the verdict and had nothing to say when given the chance.
Carson's family thanked the court and jurors but elected not to speak at a subsequent sentencing hearing.
"I, in some way, feel like anything the court will say will do no better than their silence in preserving Eve's memory in this situation, but I think it should be said that this act has no place in our society," Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said.
"If there can be a marker at which it can be said that the (Carson) family can turn a page and attempt to move forward in whatever way they can, I hope today can be that day for them," Baddour continued. "I know that the days have been long and hard for many years, and I hope that they can become a little brighter with the end of this trial."
Leaving court Tuesday afternoon, jurors did not want to talk, but one did say he was confident about their decision.
Carson, 22, a senior from Athens, Ga., and winner of the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship, was shot to death in a Chapel Hill neighborhood near the UNC campus on the morning of March 5, 2008.
In closing arguments that lasted longer than it took the jury to reach its verdict, prosecutors said that Carson endured a nearly two-hour ordeal in which Lovette and another man kidnapped her from her home and drove her in her SUV to two ATMs, where Lovette withdrew $700 from her bank account.
During that time, prosecutor James Rainsford told jurors, Carson tried to use her natural talent of relating to people to get her captors to pray with her.
"Eve Carson had the power to persuade people. Her only hope that night in the car was to use the thing she was best at – connecting with people," Rainsford said. "She got elected student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You don't just do that unless you can connect with people on a very personal level."
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall told jurors that the evidence in the case clearly pointed to Lovette as one of the two men responsible for Carson's death. The other man, Demario James Atwater, 25, pleaded guilty last year to state and federal charges in the case and is serving two life prison terms.
Surveillance video from a sorority house put Lovette and Atwater about a block away from Carson's home minutes before she was abducted, prosecutors argued. Security images from an ATM showed Lovette calmly withdrawing money while a nervous Atwater held Carson hostage in the back seat, and statements Lovette made to friends implicated him in the crime.
"This was so senseless," Woodall told reporters after the verdict. "I mean, I’ve prosecuted for 22 years here in this county and other places. I’ve heard and read about crimes that were brutal and meaningless, and there’s never been one more brutal and meaningless than this crime.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Laurence Lovette and Demario Atwater were equal in their undertaking. I believe they were partners in crime."
Lovette was also found guilty on charges of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree armed robbery, felonious larceny and felonious possession of stolen goods.
He was sentenced to 100-129 months in prison on the kidnapping charge and 77-102 months on the robbery charge. Those sentences will run consecutive to the life sentence.
"We have a young man who's going to spend the rest of his life in prison without parole, so of course I'm disappointed," defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields said following the verdict. "We were hoping for not guilty, and we didn't get it."
Lovette's troubles began, she said during sentencing, at the age of 13, with the death of his father, with whom he had a close relationship.
By age 17, he was a high school dropout and had been convicted of two misdemeanor crimes.
He was on probation when he was charged in Carson's death and the shooting death two months earlier of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.
The crimes prompted a thorough review of and subsequent changes to North Carolina's probation system after it was determined that the courts had overlooked Atwater and Lovette.
Prosecutors painted Lovette as being cold and calculating, but Bethea-Shields described him as being very compassionate.
"He has a very close-knit family, and it's very difficult for his family," she said. "He knows that, and he worries about his mother and sisters.
"He's grown a lot since 2008, and he has plans, even now when he goes to prison, to get his education degrees and keep on doing what he needs to do to make himself better."
Reaction to Carson's death was unlike anything ever seen at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The daughter of Bob Carson and Teresa Bethke, Carson was a pre-med major studying political science and biology. Popular among students, faculty and staff alike, she was active in leadership and service roles. As a Morehead-Cain scholar, she spent her summers volunteering and working overseas in Ecuador, Egypt and Ghana.
In the hours after police announced on March 6, 2008, that Carson was the unidentified woman found dead a day earlier, thousands flocked to the heart of the campus to mourn.
"We're all in a state of shock," then-Chancellor James Moeser said in one of two solemn gatherings that day. "This university needs an enormous group hug. It's OK to cry. It's OK to be filled with grief."
Erskine Bowles, who at the time was president of the UNC System, said Carson left "an indelible mark" on him during their many meetings while she was student body president.
"I've known lots of young people and young leaders, but I have rarely met someone who immediately made you feel like she was your friend and you were her friend," he said.
Still reeling from the loss a year later, the university sought to remember Carson not by how she died but how she lived.
The Eve Marie Carson Scholarship was established to recognize students who make outstanding contributions to the campus and community.
And the university's new chancellor, Holden Thorp, challenged students to remember Carson through community service.
"Any time you have a violent crime, something is lost. I think Eve had so much potential," Woodall said Tuesday. "So, we lost a great deal when we lost Eve Carson.
"Fortunately, she touched a lot of people already, and there will be a lot of memories, and she did a lot of good deeds that will live far beyond her life," he continued.