Local News

Report: Stiffer charges could have jailed murder suspect

Posted May 22, 2008 8:16 a.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2008 8:45 a.m. EDT

— A suspect in the murders of two college students might have been in jail at the time of the killings if he had been charged with a more serious crime after a November 2007 home break-in.

A report by City Manager Patrick Baker, released Wednesday, says that the investigating officer should have charged Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr.,17, with burglary, not felonious breaking and entering, after the Nov. 7 incident.

The report "raises serious questions about the overall prosecution of this matter and in particular, the degree of communication between the Durham District Attorney's Office and the prosecuting witness and the Durham Police Department," Baker wrote.

Lovette faces first-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato on Jan. 18, 2008, and the killing of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson on March 5. Police have not disclosed what killed Carson, though one document suggests she was shot, too.

Baker said a burglary charge would not have guaranteed Lovette would have been given an active jail sentence, but burglary is a more serious charge than felonious breaking and entering.

Mayor Bill Bell ordered Baker to review the prosecution of the home break-in after the victim sent a three-page memo to the City Council, entitled "Chronology of Errors Related to the Release of Laurence Lovette."

"The homeowner opines that had her matter against Mr. Lovette been properly prosecuted and adjudicated, Mr. Lovette would likely have been incarcerated at the time of the murder of Mr. Mahato and Ms. Carson," Baker wrote.

Between the home break-in and the slayings, Lovette was arrested four times – for the home break-in, possessing a stolen vehicle, burglary and theft, and then Carson's murder. Two of those arrests occurred within two days of each other, and three while Lovette was on probation.

Baker listed several lessons that he said could be learned from the case:

  • Investigating police officers need to ensure that the "most appropriate charges are filed in all cases."
  • Police and the district attorney's office need "to assure open and effective communication" between investigating officers and prosecutors.
  • The General Assembly should remove impediments to juvenile records being considered in adult cases.

Baker said he has been in contact with Police Chief Jose Lopez, who pledged to take corrective action on these issues.

Baker's report focused on the Durham Police Department's actions because "the role or performance of the District Attorney's office" is not under his authority. District attorneys, elected for judicial districts, are state officials.

The city manager provided a chronology of the events between the Nov. 2, 2007, home break-in and Lovette's March 13, 2008, arrest for Carson's slaying. He was charged with Mahato's slaying after he  was arrested in the Carson case.