Prosecutors link stolen Mercedes to Duke grad student's death
Posted July 24
Durham, N.C. — A woman whose car was stolen a day before Abhijit Mahato was found shot to death six years ago testified Thursday that she was asleep in her bed when someone broke into her Durham home and took the keys from her purse that had been in the upstairs room where she lay.
Margie Scott told jurors in the murder trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. that she awoke on the morning of Jan. 17, 2008, to a side door damaged and her emptied purse on the downstairs floor of her den.
The keys were missing, and so was the 1999 silver Mercedes Benz that had been parked in her driveway when she went to bed around 11 p.m. the night prior.
"I was devastated, then, because that's when I realized someone was in the house and they were in our bedroom while we were sleeping," she said. "And we heard nothing."
Scott said she also awoke around 3 a.m. and noticed lights on in her office, where a couple of desk drawers had been pulled open, and another room across the hall.
"At that time, I just thought maybe we forgot to turn off the lights,” she said. “But I said, 'We sure left a lot of lights on' but wasn't thinking anything out of the ordinary."
Police later recovered the Mercedes. By that time, Mahato had been found on the floor of his bedroom dead from a gunshot wound to the head and $520 taken from his savings account.
Prosecutors seeking robbery and first-degree murder convictions against the 23-year-old Lovette, contend he took Mahato in Scott's car to withdraw the money from an ATM and then took Mahato back to his apartment and killed him.
Witnesses say Lovette admitted to breaking into a home and stealing a Mercedes while a woman was asleep, and they also say he talked about killing Mahato after seeing the 29-year-old Duke University graduate student outside the apartment.
Defense attorneys, however, contend the state has no evidence linking their client to Mahato's death.
There is no DNA or fingerprints and the only ballistics evidence presented at trial has been two shell casings – one found next to Mahato on Jan. 18, 2008, and another recovered the next day from an a different apartment complex where Lovette allegedly admitted to shooting a man in the leg during a robbery – that were fired from the a 9 mm Luger handgun.
There were no eyewitnesses, and the state's key witness – the only person able to link all the state's evidence – is not credible, the defense says, because she initially denied knowing anything about the crime. Later, however, she provided several details to the contrary.
However, prosecutors – who could wrap up their case as early as Friday – say Lovette has a history of targeting people to rob and that he randomly set his sights on Mahato and had a plan to kill him.
"Mr. Lovette just didn't intend to rob Abhijit Mahato," Durham Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said in opening statements last week. "He decided he was going to eliminate the witness and kill him in cold blood with absolutely no provocation. And that's what this case is about."