Local News

Suspect in Student's Death, 2nd Man Charged in Series of Robberies

Posted January 24, 2008
Updated January 25, 2008

— Two men arrested after a high-speed chase committed at least 17 armed robberies, authorities believe. One suspect also killed a Duke University graduate student during a robbery, prosecutors argued Thursday.

Prosecutors said Stephen Lavance Oates Jr., 19, robbed Abhijit Mahato, 29, last Friday with a 9 mm handgun and stole $200, a wallet and cell phone from him. Police believe that Oates held up three other people at gunpoint that same day.

Investigators charged Oates and William Dozia Smith, 20, of Anthony Street, in at least 15 robberies going back to November. Many of the victims were Hispanic. They shot one robbery victim and injured another, police alleged.

The list of crimes stunned some as it was read at the suspects' first court appearance Thursday.

"You just think, how could this have happened in our city? How could someone commit this many crimes?" asked Mindy Solie, who owns the apartment complex where Mahato died.

State troopers arrested Oates and Smith after they led police on a high-speed chase through Durham and Wake counties Tuesday night.

Investigators believe that two 14-year-olds, caught in the car with Oates and Smith, helped the two men rob a couple at gunpoint Sunday night on Lambeth Circle in Durham.

Police said Oates and Smith were partners in at least eight robberies in western Durham since early January.

  • Jan. 7, 6:55 p.m. at 3536 Mayfair St. – Two men approached two other men getting out of their car and robbed them at gunpoint. One victim was hit in the face during the robbery. The suspects fled with a cell phone, wallet and cash.
  • Jan. 11, 10:33 p.m. at 881 Louise Circle – A man armed with a handgun robbed a man and woman in front of an apartment building. The robber fled with a cell phone, jewelry, bank cards and cash.
  • Jan. 15, 9 p.m. at 1704 White Pine Drive – Two men robbed a Domino’s pizza deliveryman at gunpoint. The robbers stole a pizza and cash.
  • Jan. 17, 6 p.m. at 1803 House Ave. – Two men wearing black, hooded sweatshirts robbed a man at gunpoint in front of an apartment building. They stole cash and a cell phone and then fled on foot.
  • Jan. 18, 9 p.m. at 2920 Chapel Hill Road – Several men were working on a car when two men approached them on foot. The robbers took cash, wallets and cell phones.
  • Jan. 19, 2:21 a.m. at 2920 Chapel Hill Road – Three men armed with guns stole cash from several men. The gunmen shot one victim in the leg before fleeing in a silver Mercedes and a white Ford Explorer or Expedition.
  • Jan. 19, 11 p.m. at 2920 Chapel Hill Road – Two men used a gun to threaten a man as he was getting out of his car. The robbers stole cash and debit cards and fled on foot.
  • Jan. 20, 7:08 p.m. at 880 Louise Circle – A man armed with a handgun robbed one man. He stole cash, a cell phone, bank cards and an iPod.

News of Oates’ arrest came as Duke University officials and police met with the community about a rash of crimes, including armed robberies. Since Jan. 1, there have been more than 70 robberies in Durham.

"We've not stopped. We're going to continue investigating," Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said. "We're going to get to the others involved in the robberies."

Lopez said investigators believe other people had a share in committing those 70 robberies, but were still checking if Oates and Smith were involved in other incidents. More arrests in the death of Mahato are also possible, Lopez said.

Police believe several robberies might not have been reported. Anyone who has been the victim of a robbery should call 911 and make a report. Anyone with information on the recent robberies should call Investigator R.J. Guardino Jr. at 919-560-1020, ext. 236.

Solie said the active pursuit and apprehension of Oates restores some sense of security for her.

"I feel 100 percent better," Solie said.

A judge denied Oates bond on the murder charge and set his next court appearance for Jan. 31. Smith was being held on a $3.1 million bond.

Oates was charged with breaking and entering in 2005 and 2006. He was also charged in 2006 with assault on a female, according to court records.

Mahato, originally from Tatangar, India, was studying for an engineering doctoral degree in computational mechanics at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. He was in his second year.

A memorial service for Mahato was scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday on Duke's campus.


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  • 68_polara Jan 25, 2008

    Sorry tab, I didn't read your entire post before I got all fired up, it started off like the typical anti 2nd amendment rant. True that one can't prevent being a victim all the time but as for the four of my family and friends whether they were lucky or the perps were dumb it's still 4 to 0.

  • 68_polara Jan 25, 2008

    Tab that's not accurate at all. I live in Durham and no less than 4 of my friends and relatives have stopped someone from robing/assaulting them with a firearm. It maybe your fantasy that one can't defend ones self for your own agenda but it doesn't make it true.

  • tab580642 Jan 25, 2008

    to eric blair who thinks just because he has his gun he prevent being robbed;

    Dude, a gun does you absolutely no good if a person has devised a plan that you are not aware of. Using your logic, one would need to be able to read minds and be able to see into the future, because the fact is that a person who is planning to rob you already has the jump on you. For example; your unlocking your door at your house, your back is turned, & you're focused on opening the door. most likely the robber will come at you from behind with his gun already drawn, so you're already at a loss.

    The fact is that a gun does you little good against a person who already has a plan UNLESS they goof-up. You better quit with the NRA talking points and deal with reality. I keep a pistol with me, but with the understanding that if I'm getting robbed.....they can have it all....the wallet, the jewelry, the shoes, clothes, underwear, and THE PISTOL!! (lol) just let me live!!!! I'm just keeping it real!!

  • tab580642 Jan 25, 2008

    good to have these sorry jokers off the streets, BUT I am not as willing, as so many of you-all are, at this point to believe 100% that these guys are guilty of the majority of the robberies that have been commited against hispanics & the murder of the Duke student. I'm sorry, but it's just a little to conveneint in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, I too want the person(s) responsible for the rash of robberies & the murder of the Duke student caught, but even considering how bad these guys are, I'd hate to see them made the sacrificial lambs just so people can have a false sense of security when the guilty party/parties are still on the streets doing the same things.
    I'm sorry, but as a resident of Durham have just cause to question the actions of our law enforcement and politicians because of the questionable work they've done in the past. at this point darn-near anyone will do, after-all, they need to make the folk at Duke feel safe even if it's just a facade. Show me the proof!!

  • beachboater Jan 25, 2008

    Did you watch the video? Those two "kids" don't seem to be bothered at all. Just another day. I wonder if they, particularly Oates, understand just what it is that he / they have done.

    So sad to put so little value on a human life.

  • the river rat Jan 24, 2008

    That one didn't last long. Must have struck a nerve there.

  • whatusay Jan 24, 2008

    When is the trial and how soon will the executions be?

  • fedupwithitall Jan 24, 2008

    Once again, another case where I wish the scumbag could read these comments to see how people feel about him, before he dies a miserable death.

  • shine Jan 24, 2008

    Do like they do in other countries....... after you are tried and IF they are found guilty - take them out the back of the courtroom and execute them. If they knew that was going to be the result it may slow them down a bit......... They may miss the open air.... but don't seem to mind being in jail or prison. Put an end to it ------ and let them know what ever nationality they are from they will be executed.
    Get off of this liberal judgement and take care of the problem- It will take care of the solution...... I don't want to pay taxes to feed and keep folks like this..........

  • Eric Blair Jan 24, 2008

    How many crimes could this kid have pulled off if everyone exercised their second amendment right? There is a correlation between guns and crime, but gun control activist don't want you to know that it goes down when the citizens are armed. Just ask the folks in Kennesaw GA.