Local News

Feds consider death penalty in Carson slaying

Posted September 29, 2008 12:21 p.m. EDT
Updated May 25, 2010 11:05 a.m. EDT

— A federal committee met Monday to decide whether to seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing former University of North Carolina student leader Eve Carson.

Department of Justice spokesman Erik Ablin said the Attorney General's Review Committee on Capital Cases was discussing the case. That panel considers U.S. Attorney requests to pursue death penalty cases.

Local authorities in March charged Demario James Atwater, 22, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, with first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with Carson's March 5 shooting death.

Police investigators believe Atwater and Lovette kidnapped Carson and forced her to withdraw $1,400 from ATMs before shooting her five times, including once in the head with a sawed-off shotgun.

Federal authorities began looking at the case in April to determine whether to file federal carjacking charges, which can carry the death sentence if prosecutors can prove the crime was committed during a homicide.

Federal charges have not been filed, and there is no timeframe for which the panel has to make a decision.

"Death penalty cases are rare (in federal cases) but not unprecedented," former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce said.

Since 1977, there have been three cases where prisoners convicted on federal charges have been executed, including Timothy McVeigh for his role in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall has said he will seek the death penalty against Atwater – Lovette is ineligible under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling because he is under age 18 – but Orange County juries have rarely sentenced defendants to death row.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce says that's why federal charges are significant.

"Local law enforcement look at all avenues to best prosecute a case," Boyce said.

The review committee, which is made up of federal prosecutors experienced in trying death penalty cases, looks at every case in which capital punishment could be considered to ensure federal laws are enforced fairly and uniformly.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law associate professor Joe Kennedy, however, questions any federal involvement in Carson's case, as well as other case.

"This is a terrible crime, but the federal government can't and shouldn't involve itself with every street crime in the country," he said. "It should focus its limited resources on matters of truly national importance, such as organized crime and terrorism."