Local News

Judge: N.C. Needs Anti-Gang Laws Now

Posted March 14, 2008 7:16 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2008 11:12 a.m. EDT

— While setting bond for a teen suspected of gunning down a Duke University student, a District Court judge on Friday called on state lawmakers to swiftly pass legislation to crack down on street gangs.

"We absolutely, positively need to have anti-gang legislation passed by the General Assembly," Judge Craig Brown said, standing at his bench for emphasis. "I'm sending an SOS to Raleigh. I expect them to hear it."

Brown set a $3 million bond for Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, of 1213 Shepherd St. in Durham, who is charged with murder in the Jan. 18 slaying of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

Mahato, 29, was shot between the eyes at point-blank range during a robbery at his off-campus apartment, authorities said.

Lovette also has been charged with murder in the March 5 shooting death of Eve Carson, the student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Police have called both slayings random acts of violence and said they have no evidence linking the crimes to gang activity. A second suspect in Carson's death, Demario James Atwater, 21, of 414-B Macon St. in Durham, once told a school resource officer that he was part of a gang.

Because neither slaying is being treated as gang-related, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Easley called Brown's comments "speculative."

Lawmakers said they are on the verge of strengthening anti-gang legislation. A bill calling for stiffer penalties for gang-related violence already passed the House, and many lawmakers said they expect it to pass the Senate when the General Assembly reconvenes in May.

"The main focus is getting money, that's no doubt," said Otis Lyons, a former Durham gang member who now runs a community activist group known as Campaign for Change.

Lyons said there are dozens of organized gangs in the Triangle committing violent crimes.

"You see a lot of gang members get in trouble at 16 or 17, but they're joining gangs at 10 or 11 years old," he said.

A 2004 study from the Governor's Crime Commission documented more than 8,500 gang members and 387 gangs in North Carolina. Observers said both figures have grown with the state's population in the last four years.

In his four-minute courtroom speech, Brown called for a special session of the General Assembly to approve anti-gang bills as soon as possible while urging careful action and fair trials for the defendants.

"Let's not rush to judgment. Let's be thoughtful and considerate in terms of anything that we do," said the judge, a graduate of both UNC and Duke.

"Any anti-gang legislation that might pass in the vengeance of the moment needs to be balanced, thoughtful and deal with not only punishment but the underlying problems that cause our young people to become members of a gang in the first place."

Brown also recommended a name for the legislation. "I think it would be wonderful if we called it Eve's Law," he said.

Carson's family declined to comment on Brown's remarks.