Winston-Salem, N.C. — A man who pleaded guilty this year to killing a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole Thursday.
Demario James Atwater, 24, avoided a possible death sentence in April when he pleaded guilty to five federal charges, including kidnapping and carjacking resulting in death, in connection with the March 2008 slaying of Eve Marie Carson.
Atwater, who was also ordered to pay $212,947.10 in restitution and to undergo treatment for substance abuse, apologized in court Thursday morning, looking directly at Carson's parents.
“I just want to say personally I’m sorry for everything that has happened,” he told them.
"Today was about accepting responsibility," Atwater's attorney, Kimberly Stevens said. "Today was about the Carsons. We hope that this can bring them some measure of peace."
Stevens said Atwater had asked her not to present evidence about his past at the sentencing hearing, out of respect for the Carsons, but that she feels her client was failed by several systems – none of which, she emphasized, excused murder.
"There's a lot of social issues in the case, issues about the department of social services, child protective services' involvement with this family, the probation and parole issues that the press repeatedly raised and talked about," Stevens said. "But we decided – he decided – that wasn't appropriate for today."
"If a death sentence would bring Eve Carson back, then he would have accepted it," she added.
Also having faced the death penalty in North Carolina, Atwater pleaded guilty in May to four state charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with Carson's death. He received a sentence of life in prison for the murder charge, along with a concurrent sentence of 23 to 29 years for armed robbery, kidnapping and firearms charges.
Under the agreement with the state, Atwater will serve his sentence in federal custody.
Prosecutors say that Atwater and another man, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., abducted Carson from or near her home and took her in her SUV to make two ATM withdrawals, each of $700.
Then, on Hillcrest Road, blocks from the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, prosecutors say, Lovette shot her four times with a handgun, and Atwater fired a fifth, fatal shot from a shotgun.
Lovette, who does not face federal charges in the case, is also charged with first-degree murder.
He does not face the death penalty because he was a minor at the time of the slaying.
Carson's family did not speak Thursday but issued a statement at Atwater's May sentencing, saying that they supported a life sentence because it "honors Eve's love of life and all people."
The family said they chose not to speak in court or to confront Atwater.
"The selfishness of taking another's life is incomprehensible, and this coward is unaddressable," their attorney, Wade Smith, read from the family's statement.