Local News

Atwater pleads guilty in UNC shooting death

Posted May 24, 2010
Updated May 25, 2010

— One of two men charged in the slaying of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree murder, avoiding a possible death sentence for his role in the March 2008 crime.

Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour sentenced Demario James Atwater to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Last month, Atwater also avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to five federal charges in the case, including carjacking resulting in death and kidnapping, in exchange for a life sentence without parole.

Under the agreement with the state, Atwater will serve his sentence in federal custody.

Eve Carson Eve Carson's killer pleads guilty

"Mr. Atwater, what you have admitted to doing was senseless, as it's been said by two attorneys before me," Baddour said. "It was wrong. It can have no place in our free society."

Atwater also pleaded guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon, first-degree kidnapping and possession of a firearm by a felon. Charges of felonious larceny, possession of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of stolen goods were dismissed.

Baddour sentenced Atwater to 275 to 349 months on the remaining charges, to be served concurrently with the life sentence.

Carson's mother, father and brother, from Athens, Ga., were present for the hearing and offered a statement, read by Raleigh attorney Wade Smith.

"We won't be talking to the court about how our lives are diminished without Eve. The effects of her death are both obvious and personal. We choose not to confront Demario Atwater. The selfishness of taking another's life is incomprehensible, and this coward is unaddressable," Smith read.

The family continued, saying the life sentence "is consistent with the wishes of our family and honors Eve's love of life and all people."

A representative for UNC-Chapel Hill said the university would not comment on Atwater's plea.

"There's been so much made that Eve was the president of the student body at UNC, and that was a great accomplishment, and she had done many great things," Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said. "But I think she was – she was a sister, she was a daughter – and to me, that's probably more important than anything."

"I just hope, by what we're doing today, we can help the family. We can give them some sense of closure as it relates to this defendant," he continued. "I wish we could do more. We can't."

Atwater had nothing to say, but his attorney, Jonathan Broun, extended sympathy to the Carson family.

"We knew that allowing a sentence that, while harsh and severe as it should be, will allow him to live. We know they are doing that, not as a favor to Mr. Atwater, but because of the love that they feel for Eve Carson, and we appreciate it."

New details revealed

Police found Carson's body in the early morning of March 5, 2008, in a neighborhood several blocks from the UNC campus while responding to reports of gunshots.

An autopsy found she was shot four times with a 25-caliber handgun and once – the fifth and fatal shot – with a sawed-off Harrington & Richardson 12-gauge shotgun.

"She had placed her (right) hand up to shield her head, whenever the shotgun was fired," Woodall said, outlining the facts of the case. "The medical examiner believed that she would have survived for some period of time, as to the gunshot wounds from the 25-caliber handgun."

Atwater and his alleged accomplice, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., went to Carson's home, abducted her and took her in her blue Toyota Highlander to make two ATM withdrawals each of $700 before killing her, Woodall said.

"All the other evidence tends to support that Eve Carson was – they confronted and took her from her home – if not actually inside her home, just outside her home," Woodall said.

Atwater later admitted to his girlfriend at the time, Shanita Love, what had happened, and he told about a dozen other people parts of what happened that night, Woodall said.

The crime was random, Atwater admitted, and he and Lovette, who is still awaiting trial, had been in Chapel Hill looking for people to rob.

What investigators were never able to determine was where Atwater and his alleged accomplice kidnapped Carson. There were a couple of different stories, he told, about how she was abducted, Woodall said.

"He told (Love) that they had gone into a sorority house through an open door and got Ms. Carson," he said.

"There was never any evidence discovered, other than this statement, that anyone went into the house," Woodall continued.

Other evidence also put Atwater and Lovette in Chapel Hill and near Carson's home that morning.

Around 3:30 a.m., Woodall said, a woman reported seeing "two suspicious black males" in the area of Rosemary Street near the house where Carson lived on Friendly Lane.

Video footage showed the men, identified as Atwater and Lovette, walking and, a few minutes later, driving by in Carson's SUV.

Lovette also used a cell phone that could be traced to Franklin Street, about a mile from Carson's home, at 3:02 a.m., Woodall said.

After Atwater's arrest, police also found Carson's iPod in his truck and shotgun shells consistent with the murder weapon in his home.

DNA evidence in Carson's SUV also linked Atwater to the crime, Woodall said.

"That is some of the evidence in this case," he said. "This is a case where there is literally a mountain of evidence, and it seems clear that the defendant was the one who fired the shotgun on this occasion."

122 Comments

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  • Proud2BUS Citizen May 26, 8:51 a.m.

    Goalieman - I agree with you 100%.

    When a life sentence is issued it should mean exactly that LIFE, no time off for good behavoir, etc. They have comitted the crime and now they should remain until they die. In addition, they should be given only the basics necessities, No cable TV, higher education etc.

    My personal opinion is that if a life is taken then yours should be taken the same way. As a society we have become to lenient on criminals only when harsher punishments are given will we them start to see things change, maybe.

  • mpheels May 25, 3:07 p.m.

    aspenstreet1717 - first, you do realize that Orange and Chatham are a single judicial district, right? It's not just Chapel Hill electing the DA, it's Hillsborough, Pittsboro, Siler City...

    Secondly, we're a democratic society. The people of Orange and Chatham counties elected Jim Woodall, his duty is to those who live in the district he represents. So what if he considered his reelection chances when accepting the plea - all that means is he listens to the community serves and considers their wishes when making decisions. Isn't that what we all want from our elected officials?

  • OGE May 25, 3:00 p.m.

    I wonder how many hypocrites are Pro Death Penalty and also Pro Life?

  • shirleywilliams2 May 25, 2:41 p.m.

    Now the taxpayers have to take of him for the rest of his life. Somehow that does not seem fair and why federal prison. I have heard that federal prison is nicer than state prison. He is not a bad looking fellow. He should make someone a good girl friend in prison.

  • Wanda63 May 25, 2:32 p.m.

    ForTheLoveOf: I work with the criminal justice system and see the same repeat offenders, the same stories, and the same childish, immature, and often sadistic behavior of arrestees. I, being a person of faith, do want and hope the best for ANY and ALL people. Being a person of faith I also believe that there is a time for justice, not vengeance as the old saying of eye for an eye, and in this case, the justice should be death.

    ForTheLoveOf, you said it perfectly. I only heard this story on the radio this morning as I was driving to work. I am still disappointed that he copped a second plea because I truly wanted to see justice for Eve and the Duke student as well. What goes around, comes around, so let's see how long he and his partner in murder survive the prison system.

    May you now finally rest in peace Eve.

  • Goalieman May 25, 1:12 p.m.

    What bothers me now is the on-going law about how long is considered to be a life sentence. Yes, he will be old when that time comes but if he has the chance of getting out for any reason, then justice has not been served!

  • wildcat May 25, 12:45 p.m.

    Except the life in prison without parole and move on. The decision has been made. He will be in prison for a very long time and grow old there.

  • wildcat May 25, 12:32 p.m.

    Why would the DA make a deal?

    The late Ms. Carson's family made the decision and was pleased with the out come.

  • wildcat May 25, 12:32 p.m.

    I was really thrilled when I learned in got life in prison without pariole. My prayers were answered. The other person regardless of his age should get life in prison also. They are off the streets and killing him would not bring back the late Ms. Carson.

  • aspenstreet1717 May 25, 10:42 a.m.

    Why? The DA wants to get re-elected in liberal Chapel Hill.

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