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UNC murder suspect arraigned on federal charges

Demario James Atwater, 22, pleaded not guilty to federal carjacking charges, which could allow authorities to seek a death sentence.

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — One of two men accused of killing University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges related to the case.

Demario James Atwater, 22, was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Greensboro on federal charges of carjacking resulting in death, which could allow authorities to seek a death sentence.

A trial date on the federal charges is scheduled for November 2009.

Atwater and another man, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 18, each face state charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in Carson's shooting death.

Chapel Hill police say the pair kidnapped Carson early on the morning of March 5 and forced her to withdraw $1,400 from ATMs before shooting her five times, including once in the head.

Police found her body on a street several blocks from the UNC campus while responding to reports of gunshots.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall announced in August that he will seek the death penalty against Atwater.

The United States Attorney General must decide before March 31 if Atwater will face the death penalty if he's convicted.

If the decision comes before President-elect Barack Obama takes office, the decision could be reviewed because of the new administration, former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said.

"I do think it will not only be reviewed, but it will be reviewed very, very closely because there are deep policy implications involved any time you use the death penalty," he said.

It's still unclear if Lovette will face federal charges.

"There may be a reason, in terms of cooperation, ability to make deals, that the government is keeping its options open," Shanahan said.

Lovette is ineligible for the death penalty under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits executions of people who were under age 18 at the time of a capital crime. He turned 18 last month.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys representing the men on the state charges have asked for all tips and information that Crime Stoppers received about the case, as well as information about a program called Gang Net, which investigates gang membership.

According to search warrants released earlier this year, an anonymous call to Crime Stoppers led investigators to Lovette and Atwater.

Police decide which information from Crime Stoppers is put in the case file, which in turn is shared with defense attorneys when someone is arrested. The attorneys, however, want to see what tips police did not pursue.

A hearing on the motion was scheduled for last week but was postponed after defense attorneys received more discovery evidence in the case, Woodall said.

He is looking to reschedule the hearing after the first of the year.

The state Department of Correction reports that Atwater is being held in disciplinary segregation at an undisclosed location after being held at Central Prison in Raleigh., where he is serving a term for breaking and entering and will begin a sentence for gun possession in Februrary. Probation for both crimes was revoked after his arrest in the Carson case.

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Kelcey Carlson, Reporter
Richard Adkins, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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