Local News

Prosecutors respond to UNC murder suspect's bid for change of venue

Posted January 22, 2010 8:52 p.m. EST
Updated January 22, 2010 11:20 p.m. EST

— Federal prosecutors say defense attorneys for one of two men accused of killing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student body president last year have not demonstrated that a trial would be tainted without a change of venue.

In a response filed in U.S. District Court on Friday, prosecutors argued that it is possible for Demario James Atwater to receive a fair trial by an impartial jury in the Middle District of North Carolina.

In a motion filed in December, Atwater's attorneys cited "extensive" media coverage that has tainted the jury pool throughout the state as grounds for moving the trial outside North Carolina.

Atwater faces a number of federal charges, including kidnapping and carjacking resulting in death, in the March 5, 2008, shooting death of Eve Marie Carson. His trial is set for May.

The defense motion cited a statewide survey conducted in June that found 80 percent of respondents have knowledge of the case and that 52 percent already believe Atwater is guilty of killing Carson.

Fifty-two percent said they believe Atwater should be sentenced to death.

Prosecutors contended in their motion that the some questions in the survey were opened-ended and some were closed-ended.

"One major problem with the survey as it was conducted is that the participants were never provided (before responding) with the basic tenets regarding the criminal case," the motion states.

Atwater also faces the death penalty on state charges in the case, which include first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, felonious larceny and felonious possession of stolen goods. No trial date, however, has been set.

Authorities say Atwater and another man, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., kidnapped Carson, forced her to withdraw money from ATMs, shot her five times, including once to the head, and left her on a residential street near the UNC campus.

Federal prosecutors allege that Atwater fired the fifth and final shot that killed Carson.

Lovette also faces several charges, including first-degree murder. Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, he is not eligible for the death penalty.

That ruling prohibits the executions of criminals under 18 at the time of a crime. Lovette was 17 when Carson was killed.