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Murder Suspect Was in Court 2 Days Before Carson's Death

Posted March 13, 2008
Updated March 19, 2008

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— One of the murder suspects in the shooting death of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student body president was in a Wake County courtroom on a probation violation two days before her shooting death.

A series of clerical errors, however, forestalled the possibility of Demario James Atwater going to jail, according to Clerk of Superior Court Lorrin Freeman and state Department of Correction officials.

Atwater and his probation officer showed up in third-floor courtroom 2-D at 9:30 a.m. March 3, but his court file was sent to a fourth-floor courtroom, Freeman said. The judge and all parties involved agreed to reschedule the hearing for March 31.

Two days later, on March 5, Chapel Hill police found UNC senior Eve Carson's body about a half-mile from the campus. Atwater, 21, is one of two suspects charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.

"We are working very diligently to try and find out how this could have happened," Freeman said. "The file was in one courtroom, and it would have been a relatively simple matter to find out where the file was and have it brought up to the courtroom. That is something that should have been done."

Correction officials said that, had the hearing occurred, Atwater could have been sent back to jail then or another court date, which would have been similar to a first court appearance, could have been scheduled.

The state Department of Correction has also opened an investigation into why it took several months to bring Atwater to court for that probation violation. He pleaded guilty to a gun charge in June 2007, violating his three years’ probation from a 2005 break-in, correction officials said.

Atwater was arrested Feb. 20 on the probation violation, released under a $10,000 secured bond and set to appear in court March 3.

Atwater should have been arrested in June, the corrections department said, but his probation officer did not fill out the necessary paperwork until five months later.

The clerk of court also took the blame for another clerical error, relating to Atwater's 2005 sentence.

A judge sentenced Atwater to nine months of intensive probation that required him to check almost daily with a probation officer. A clerk, however, did not put the correct information in Atwater's file, so he was placed on regular probation.

"That the opportunity was there, that in some way that some intervention may have occurred, obviously, is something that is going to be of grave concern to us forever," Freeman said.

Both Atwater and Laurence Alvin Lovette, 17, also charged with first-degree murder in Carson's death, have criminal records.

Atwater's dates to 2004 and includes charges of robbery, drug possession and resisting arrest. In 2006, he was sentenced to 24 months' probation for possession of a firearm as a felon.

Lovette's criminal record includes charges of breaking and entering and larceny, for which he was on probation when he was arrested Thursday. He was due in a Durham courtroom this month on charges of first-degree burglary, felony larceny of a motor vehicle and felony larceny after breaking and entering, all related to two crimes from February.

He was also charged Thursday with first-degree murder in the Jan. 18 shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and with several other charges connected to crimes from mid-February.

Atwater and Lovette both went to Jordan High School in Durham and withdrew in 2002 and 2007, respectively, Durham Public Schools spokesman Michael Yarbrough said Thursday.

Atwater later enrolled at Apex High School, where he once got in a fight with another student over a blue bandanna he displayed on campus, Apex police Sgt. Jacques Gilbert, a school resource officer, said.

"We interviewed Mr. Atwater. He indicated the blue bandanna represented a gang that he was affiliated with," Gilbert said.

The gang was based in Durham, where both he and Lovette were arrested this week.

But Durham police Chief Jose Lopez said Thursday that at this point in each of the cases, he does not want to "give any credit to any gangs."

"I believe they are two young men who were involved in some robberies and homicides, and they have been charged as such."

Atwater, who was arrested Wednesday, was being held in the Orange County Jail without bond. Lovette was being held in the Durham County Jail without bond.

Lovette could make an appearance before a judge as early as Friday to face charges in Carson's death, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said.

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  • Glock Ranger Mar 14, 2008

    This whole thing just sickens me. I'd say something like "there should be a public uprising which would hold the ciminally inept court officials, who contributed to the death of Eve Carson, just as responsible as the two creatures who terrorized and murdered Eve Carson.

    The court system is not to blame. The general workforce employed by the court system are not to blame. Individuals made choices, mistakes, and failed to perform their duties which allowed these two (and many more like them) to "fall through the cracks" and cause this death that is no more remarkable than any other murder except for the fact that she was a prominent person on a prestigious university campus.

    Had she been "just another girl" on campus, these breaches in public trust would not have been remarkable. Now that the bright light shines on them, it is another opportunity to "clean house".

    Maybe there will be a scape goat. Since scapegoats are never prominent, we will likely never know if a head rolled

  • VT1994Hokie Mar 14, 2008

    blackdog may have a great point, especially in these times. Go sir and keep on writing.

  • Corvus Mar 14, 2008

    Not all state workers should be classified as lazy. I work for Probation and I do my job. However, there are always those that do not do there job and SUPERVISORS that let them get away with NOT doing there job. Which is the case here.

    However, it is not just the probation departments fault. How about all the judges and DAs that plea bargained him down to just doing probation. I am sorry but, I have seen the same people put on probation 3 and 4 times, and these people always got in more trouble and were revoked and sent to prison. Then when they get out of prison and get in trouble again. The DA makes a DEAL with them, without checking their criminal history and puts them on probation again.

    Why don't the lawmakers in Raleigh pass some kind of law that prevents people from being put on probation anywhere from 4 to 20 times (I am not exagerating this figure)?

  • aintbackingdwn Mar 14, 2008

    Eve's parents should sue the state.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Mar 14, 2008

    Judicial government employees.

    Don't matter. Someone in this system cause lives to be lost un-necessaryily. The probation officer and clerk should both be fired. Its way time to tighten up so this great error of mistakes will never happen again. Hire competent worker if that is what it takes and get rid of those who is doing messing work and getting by with it. Don't need another case set aside and someone loses his/her life because of it.

  • dplowman Mar 14, 2008

    With gangs on the rise and the lack of value of life the only thing a law abiding person can do is keep your powder dry, because the law will not be their to help you while the crime is going on so it is up to any resposible person to have the meanes to defend his famly and himself. I have a carry permit and up untill a few years ag I carryed because I wanted to but now it seems like a way of life with the revolving door court system and the lack of morality of our crooks, who ever thought somebody would kill a person over the amount of money these people steal. A crook can cary a weapon anywhere they feel like because what is one more charge if they get busted?
    I don't blame the law inforcement but I do blame the judges and lawyers for these people being on the street's.

  • bronzegoddess40 Mar 14, 2008

    ctechic2004=Amen!

  • cowman Mar 14, 2008

    Someone should organize a march on the court-house and demand that someone should be held accountable for their enactions. I for one would be a part of that march!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  • rlewis Mar 14, 2008

    I can speak from experience when I say that the clerical system of our courts produces a ton of mistakes. I once had a court date for a traffic ticket, showed up on the date stated on my ticket...only to find out that the date had been moved up two days (so I had missed my court date).

    Nobody informed me of this change. You would think that would be an important detail.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Mar 14, 2008

    We can make comments on this subject for the rest of the day. The court system now knows they messed up. What concerns me the most is, what they are now doing to keep this from ever happening again. Mistakes are made daily on whatever job. But this is above making mistakes, it cause a person to lose his/her life. So if the probation officer had been doing his job (whether he under paid or not) this would not have happened. The clerk should be fired. The young crimal man should have been immediately locked up until they could obtain his files. He was on felony charges with a fire-arm. What more did they need to lock of this criminal? I hope they see their more than big mistakes on this one. Their supervisor should now see how slack they were on the job. Its not the court that lacking, its the people that are working there. All my opinion. :)

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