Local News

DA will seek death penalty in UNC murder case

Posted August 11, 2008 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2008 9:25 p.m. EDT

— Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said Monday he will seek the death penalty against one of two men charged in the shooting death of last year's student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Demario James Atwater, 22, was arrested March 12 and charged with first-degree murder in the March 5 shooting death of Eve Marie Carson, 22, a senior from Athens, Ga.

Police found her body on a residential street about a half-mile from the UNC campus in the early morning hours while responding to reports of gunshots.

"This is the toughest decision any prosecutor has to make," Woodall said, adding that his decision was not a quick one and that he believes Carson's family stands behind it.

"Her family, I will just say, will support the state," he said. "They want closure. It's been horrible. They have to live with it every day for the rest of their lives."

Woodall told Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Lock that Atwater and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. shot Carson five times. Lovette, investigators believe, shot her four times with a .25-caliber handgun, and Atwater shot her once in the head with a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, he said.

"He (Atwater) had been seen with that weapon prior to this crime," Woodall told Lock.

Investigators found the handgun broken into pieces and there appeared to be attempts to dismantle the shotgun, Woodall said. But he did not say where the weapons were found.

Physical evidence also linked Atwater to the shotgun and linked Lovette to being inside Carson's Toyota Highlander.

Carson had been at home studying, Woodall said, and evidence showed she had opened an e-mail at 3:35 a.m.

Atwater and Lovette told various people they had been in the area on foot near Carson's home looking for someone to rob, Woodall said.

"Essentially, they walked up Friendly Lane, they could see a person in that house, and the blinds on the windows of that house were raised that morning," he said.

Woodall said Atwater told different stories about what happened next. In one, Atwater said he and Lovette kidnapped Carson from inside her home. In another, he said, they acted as if their car had broken down and took her outside her home and stole her SUV.

"Based on the appearance of her residence, the state, at this time, believes she was probably abducted just outside her home," Woodall said.

They used Carson's ATM card to withdraw $1,400 from her bank account. They made a withdrawal shortly before 4 a.m. at a Bank of America in Chapel Hill. Woodall said, and they also used it at other locations in Durham.

Woodall said they drove around for a while before going to Hillcrest Drive, where police found Carson's body around 5 a.m.

There were no clear statements about what exactly happened before Carson's death, he said.

Last month, a grand jury handed up additional indictments against both men, including first-degree kidnapping, armed robbery, larceny and possession of stolen goods.

Federal sources tell WRAL News that federal investigators are also looking at carjacking charges, which can carry a death sentence if prosecutors can prove the crime was committed during a homicide.

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 a crime in Orange was John Breeze in January 1948.

Lovette, 17, who is also charged in the Jan. 18 shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, is not eligible for the death penalty. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits the execution of anyone who was under age 18 at the time of a crime. He was 16 then.

If convicted in Carson's death, the maximum sentence Lovette could face is life in prison without parole.