Local News

Witness: Eve Carson wanted to pray before shooting death

Posted December 13, 2011 3:30 p.m. EST
Updated December 13, 2011 11:37 p.m. EST

— A man testifying in the trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. testified Tuesday that Lovette told him that Eve Carson pleaded for her life in the moments leading up to her shooting death three years ago.

"Before (Lovette) even shot her, he explained, she was saying, 'Let's pray,'" 20-year-old Jayson McNeil said, recounting a March 12, 2008, conversation he had with Lovette, a lifelong friend, about the crime. "She wanted them to pray together."

The conversation between Lovette and McNeil happened the same day Durham police arrested Demario James Atwater in the case. An anxious Lovette called McNeil seeking help to find a place to hide, McNeil said.

"He stated that (police) had gotten (Atwater)," McNeil testified. "He kept saying that, 'They got him. They got him.' He was telling me they got Rio."

Prosecutors contend that Lovette, 21, and Atwater, 25, kidnapped the 22-year-old University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president from her home sometime after 3:30 a.m. on March 5, 2008, took her in her SUV to withdraw money from ATMs and then, nearly 90 minutes later, shot her five times in a neighborhood close to the Chapel Hill campus.

Atwater pleaded guilty last year to state and federal charges in the case and is serving two life sentences in federal prison. Lovette faces life in prison, if he's convicted of first-degree murder.

McNeil, whose testimony was part of a plea deal in a federal drug case, said Lovette told him that he and Atwater went to Chapel Hill to rob and that they saw Carson getting into her SUV.

"They rushed her," he said.

Lovette got into the driver's seat, and Atwater got into the back seat with Carson and held a gun to her head, McNeil said.

"He said the whole time that Eve Carson was in the back seat that she was pleading for her life and explained that they didn't have to do what they were doing," McNeil said. "Demario was feeling her clothes and touching her in certain parts of her body."

Lovette said they killed her because she had seen their face.

"He explained to me that he shot her five times with a .25-caliber and that she was still alive. She was moving and stuff," McNeil said. "(He) said Demario Atwater stood over top of her with a 14-guage and shot her in the chest. He said he no longer heard anything out of her. She was dead."

Dr. Cynthia Gardner, a medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Carson, testified Tuesday that the UNC-Chapel Hill senior had actually been shot four times with a .25 caliber pistol – once to the right cheek, the back, right arm and right buttock.

She was also shot once through her right hand and the right temple with a sawed-off shotgun.

"Only one of these wounds was immediately fatal, and that was the shotgun injury to the head," Gardner said.

Carson could have survived the handgun wounds, she added, with appropriate medical care.

As Gardner showed jurors autopsy photos, Lovette sat with his head down, and appeared to be looking at a copy of the autopsy report that detailed Carson's injuries.

Analysts with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation also testified that they found no hair or prints linking him to the shooting.

Jennifer Remy, an SBI crime lab hair and fiber analyst, said she tested nearly 100 pieces of evidence in the case, including items taken from Carson's SUV and was unable to find hair or fiber samples linking Lovette to the crime.

But she said it wasn't unusual for there not to be hair and fiber evidence and that the way someone wears his or her hair is a factor in how it can fall out – the average person loses about 100 pieces daily, she said.

Another SBI agent specializing in latent prints said she tested more than 60 items of evidence and couldn't link Lovette to the crime. She also tested several pairs of shoes taken from Lovette's home but couldn't positively match them to a shoeprint found on a Bank of America receipt found in the front driver's side floor board of Carson's Toyota Highlander.

During opening statements, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall admitted that there wasn't a lot of forensic evidence linking Lovette to the crime but that an ATM surveillance photo and witness statements did link him.

Also, Woodall said, shell casings found near and bullets recovered from Carson's body matched a .25-caliber handgun that investigators recovered based on information from Atwater's girlfriend, Shanita Love, at the time.

Defense attorneys have said there's little evidence to link Lovette to Carson's killing and that witnesses, like McNeil and Love, either had motives or were biased when they cooperated with police.