Local News

Prosecutors Unsure Which Suspect Shot Duke Grad Student

Posted April 9, 2008 11:34 p.m. EDT
Updated April 10, 2008 10:36 p.m. EDT

— A Durham County prosecutor said in court Thursday that investigators do not know for sure whether Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. pulled the trigger in the shooting death of a Duke University graduate student, though he is charged with the murder.

Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline also revealed in a court hearing that detectives used ballistic evidence to track down the other person charged in the Jan. 18 slaying of Abhijit Mahato.

Witnesses to other armed robberies where the same gun was used said co-defendant Stephen Oates was the shooter in those cases, Cline said.

"We don't have any information to say that ... (Lovette) was, in fact, the shooter or not," Cline said. "We just don't know at this point."

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

Lovette, 17, was linked to the case, Cline said, through Mahato's cell phone, which was used on the night of his death to call several of Lovette's friends.

She also said Lovette had some of Mahato's possessions when he was arrested last month in the March 5 shooting death of Eve Carson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president.

Cline said investigators also learned Lovette had told several people "they had to kill somebody" in the Mahato robbery.

Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Stephens denied a motion from Lovette's attorney for a protective order to limit who can talk about the case in public.

In a motion she filed last month, Karen Bethea-Shields said a lead investigator divulged information about the case in front of a local reporter on March 26 at the Durham County Courthouse.

"We are seeing now that we have extensive and persistent publicity in this case about every aspect of this particular defendant's life," Bethea-Shields said, as Lovette sat at her side wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles. "Trial by media is not what our Constitution stands for."

Cline said that there are already many guidelines governing the disclosure of information to the public and that her office has followed them. She said she could not control what politicians do.

"I've seen nothing done by anyone in this case that rises to the level that would require this court to assign a protective order," Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens said.

Bethea-Shields cited examples of local politicians, including District Court Judge Marcia Morey and County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow, who both disclosed juvenile information about Lovette to local reporters when it should have been confidential.

She said she is also concerned about comments made last month by District Court Judge Craig Brown, who during Lovette's bond hearing called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to crack down on gangs.

Bethea-Shields also said Durham Mayor Bill Bell called for a review of Lovette's case and requested a public report concerning how authorities responded to a complaint from a crime victim.

"He has already been prejudiced enough," she said.

Stephens also denied a motion to reduce Lovette's bond from $3 million to $500,000, a request that drew a gasp from the courtroom. Lovette is being held without bond in Carson's death in Orange County.

Lovette's family members were in court for Thursday but declined to comment.

Mindy Solie, the owner of the Anderson Street apartment complex where Mahato – a native of India – lived, was also in court.

"I feel that he was entrusted to us," Solie said. "He was living in our apartments, and I'm here because I think of him every day."