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Probation revoked for UNC murder suspect

A judge sentenced Demario James Atwater to 20 to 25 months in prison – sentences that had been suspended.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A Superior Court judge Thursday reinstated the sentences of a Durham man who was on probation when he was charged in the shooting death of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student body president.

Through his attorney, Rudy Renfer, Demario James Atwater admitted Thursday to violating his probation stemming from a Feb. 16, 2005, conviction for felony breaking and entering and larceny.

He was on 36 months' probation for that conviction when he was convicted in Granville County on June 28, 2007, for possession of a firearm by a felon.

Atwater also entered an Alford plea to charges that he violated his probation in Granville County by not following through on requirements to perform community service and pay court costs.

The 21-year-old, who shed tears as he sat in court, said little during the hearing, although he did whisper to his attorney at times.

Judge Ripley Rand activated Atwater's two prior suspended sentences. That puts him in prison for 20 to 25 months, serving two consecutive sentences – up to 10 months for the Wake County conviction and up to 15 months for the Granville County conviction. He must also pay $337.50 in attorney's fees.

Renfer blamed the probation system for letting Atwater "fall of the face of the probation map."

He said Wake County probation officers failed to notify Atwater when his case was reassigned and that when he did report, they told him to return later.

Atwater told Rand that during his sentencing in Granville County, the reason he told the judge he was not on probation was that he had not heard from Wake County probation officers in more than a year.

"If the probation office, the probation department, does not do a better job of informing them and keeping people on probation informed of their responsibilities, they can't fulfill those responsibilities," Renfer said.

An internal probe into Atwater's case found as many as 10 staff touched Atwater's case file and did not address red flags. Probation officers also lost contact with him for more than a year.

Atwater had been in court on the probation violations two days before Eve Carson's March 5 shooting death, but the hearing was postponed following a paperwork mix-up.