Local News

Lovette admitted to killing Duke grad student, state's key witness says

Posted July 22, 2014 8:32 a.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2014 10:55 a.m. EDT

— The ex-girlfriend of Laurence Lovette's co-defendant in the murder of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson testified Tuesday that the 23-year-old admitted to the robbery and shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato six years ago.

Shanita Love said she heard Lovette telling her boyfriend – Demario Atwater – on the morning of Jan. 18, 2008, that he and Atwater's half-brother "killed a guy" after taking him to an ATM for money and then took a camcorder, iPod and cellphone from Mahato's Anderson Street apartment.

"It was said that he had shot the man, but that he put a pillow to the gun," Love said.

Later that same morning as Atwater and Lovette drove by Mahato's apartment while taking her to work, Love said Lovette, again, commented about the crime.

"He looked in that direction (of the apartment)," Love said. "He said there was no activity, as far as a crime scene or anything, so the body was not found yet."

It wasn't until 11:30 p.m. that day that friends found Mahato, 29, lying on his bedroom floor – with a pillow over his face – dead from a gunshot wound to the head.

Lovette's defense, however, contends that Love is not credible. Cross-examination Tuesday focused on several interviews she gave police, including the initial one on March 20, 2008, in which she said Lovette wasn't involved in Mahato's death.

By November 2009, the defense pointed out, Love's claims had changed.

"She told me Eve Carson was a copycat murder of Mr. Mahato's," Chapel Hill police investigator Celisa Lehew testified about an Oct. 16, 2008, conversation between the two. "She didn't detail it. She said the only difference was that Demario Atwater was involved in Eve Carson's homicide, and (Atwater's brother) Phillip Maybrey was involved in Mr. Mahato's homicide."

Maybrey has never been charged in the case, and he testified Monday that he lied to police when he told them he was there at the time of the crime.

But the jurors who must decide if Lovette is guilty of first-degree murder in Mahato's death weren't present for any of Love's testimony.

Nor were they there to hear from six other witnesses whose testimony defense attorneys are trying to limit because of details about Lovette's involvement in Carson's murder or other alleged crimes for which he was never charged.

Carson's death – Lovette and Atwater are both serving life in prison for it – will be part of the trial, but the judge has not decided how much information the jury will hear about that crime. Defense attorneys wanted it left out altogether, but the state has said it's necessary to show Lovette's "pattern of violent behavior."

The 22-year-old Carson was shot five times in a Chapel Hill neighborhood near the UNC campus on the morning of March 5, 2008, after Lovette and Atwater kidnapped her from her home and drove her to two ATMs, where Lovette withdrew $700 from her bank account.

In Mahato's case, a former Durham police detective testified that someone withdrew $520 from Mahato's savings account between 2:12 a.m. and 2:14 a.m. on the morning of his death.

It wasn't until after Carson's death that Love went to police, she said, because she didn't want to get involved.

"I felt like it was too much for me to hold in," she said.

Other testimony Tuesday included Durham resident Margie Scott, who testified that she discovered on Jan. 17, 2008, that someone broke into her home in the middle of the night while she slept and stole her silver 1999 Mercedes Benz – one police say is similar to the car recorded on ATM security video when someone made withdrawals from Mahato's bank account.

Love also testified that she saw Lovette around the time of the crime driving a silver Mercedes that he claimed he stole from an old woman.

Police found the stolen car on Jan. 20, 2008, a police officer testified, in the same Durham apartment complex where Atwater and Love lived.