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Death Penalty Unlikely for Students' Suspected Killers

Posted March 13, 2008
Updated August 10, 2008

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— Because of age in  one case and geography in the other, the two men charged in the slaying of a University of North Carolina student  won't  likely face the death penalty in the case, according to observers.

Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, of 1213 Shepherd St. in Durham, and Demario James Atwater, 21, of 414-B Macon St. in Durham, are charged with first-degree murder in the March 5 shooting death of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson. Lovette also has been charged with the Jan. 18 slaying of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits the execution of anyone under 18 at the time of the crime, sparing Lovette's life. The harshest punishment he could face, if convicted of either crime, would be life in prison without parole.

"The fact is that, at age 16 or 17, we are not who we will grow up to be necessarily, and the notion of rehabilitation is much stronger for somebody that age," said Thomas Maher, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a Durham nonprofit that represents inmates on North Carolina's death row and assists defense lawyers in capital cases.

The difference in potential sentences for Lovette and Atwater also raises questions of fairness if prosecutors were to pursue the death penalty against Atwater, Maher said.

"That's part of the problem with the death penalty," he said.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said he hasn't decided whether he will seek the death penalty against Atwater.

Even if Atwater's trial becomes a capital case, history would be on the defense's side.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in North Carolina in 1977, no one has been sentenced to death in Orange County. The last person executed for an Orange County crime was John Breeze, who was put to death in January 1948 after being convicted of murder.

Superior Court Judge Carl Fox, a former Orange County district attorney, said a more liberal jury pool is one reason suspects never were sentenced to death in the two dozen capital cases he prosecuted there.

One of those cases was the infamous shooting of jogger Kristin Lodge-Miller in 1993. The jury returned a second-degree murder verdict against Anthony Simpson.

"You end up with a lot of people who either don't believe in (the death penalty) or are uncertain about it," Fox said. "They would have been inclined to impose life."

Some UNC students and Chapel Hill residents said the state's death penalty law should be enforced when circumstances call for it.

"When the evidence is there, we have to see that justice is served," Jonathan Stephenson said.

"People have no respect for anything or anybody, and I certainly believe the death penalty is in line," Max Yontz said.

Others expressed reservations about seeking the death penalty in Carson's slaying.

Survey people on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and you'll find a range of emotions about the killing of Eve Carson.

"I don't think justice would be served by killing someone for killing someone," UNC senior James Williams said.

"It's too easy. The death penalty is too easy," business owner Aruna Patel said.

135 Comments

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  • Bradley07 Mar 17, 2008

    I wish someone could explain to me WHEN a human life means nothing. How do you stand by and DO NOTHING when a person is not harming anyone or anything and then are murdered like they were not worth anything?!?!??! When those that harm have no regard for who they hurt. THEY don't deserve to have regard for their life. Take them out of this world, they don't deserve to be here if they don't have regard for others around them. Why do they have worth and privileges, when their victims did NOT even have a choice.

  • bstrickland1968 Mar 14, 2008

    Execution costing more than a life sentence is our own fault. I really doubt the offenders spent a lot of money on the death penalty they gave the victim. If history repeats itself I would like for us to return to the justice system of the late 1800s.

  • momofthree Mar 14, 2008

    Once a person kills another human being I think that they lose their right to live on this planet. That is why we have the death penalty, right? So, why does it matter that he is 17? What kind of rehabilitation could cure cold blooded murder? None.

  • Tripwire Mar 14, 2008

    Also putting aside the tax payer cost controversies for a minute, if they are proved guilty I just can't think of a single good reason to bother with keeping them around.

  • Tripwire Mar 14, 2008

    jp534- I read that article and it is basically the authors opion. There was no breakdown on why the death penalty is more expensive. I don't see anything that gives the cost breakdown. The author wants us to simply take him at his word that it cost more. I want to see the actual figures and how this money is being spent. It could be that the expenses are not justified and perhaps much of it eliminated with new legislation. I will continue to do research on this topic.

  • believer58 Mar 14, 2008

    GWALLY...The really, really sad part is that the families of the victims will be paying to house and feed and entertain these low lifes for the rest of their lives.

    Where is the justice in that?

  • believer58 Mar 14, 2008

    Certainly leads one to wonder when enough will be enough for the left leaning county of Orange.

    They shot Eve Carson in the head and left her in the middle of an intersection. There is no rehabilitaion for someone with so little respect for human life. They do not deserve my tax dollars or yours for the effort to be made.

  • GWALLY Mar 14, 2008

    Another sad part of the two murders of these promising students is that they would probably have been very high wage earners, therefore very high tax paying citizens to the government to help fill the coffers from which these two scourges of the earth know all to well how to steal from. Talk about cutting off the hand that feeds you...!

  • jp534 Mar 14, 2008

    I think there are plenty of studies that show it costs considerably more to put someone to death than it does to keep them imprisoned their entire life.
    http://www.mindspring.com/~phporter/econ.html

    Not arguing for or against, but if anyone wants to make an argument about spending taxpayer dollars to feed and clothe these criminals the rest of their life, it would be nice if they used facts instead of opinions.

  • NCMOMof3 Mar 14, 2008

    I'm sorry, but I am the mother of a 19 year old and a 16 year old son (also an 11 year old) and both of them know what they do and the consequences of their actions. If either one of them killed someone, most especially 2 people in less than 3 months time, I would be the one strapping them into the electric chair while I was praying for God to have mercy on their souls

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