Local News

Judge quashes media subpoenas in Carson case

Posted March 10, 2010 1:52 p.m. EST

— A U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday that media outlets do not have to turn over copies of their coverage of the 2008 shooting death of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson.

Defense attorneys for Demario James Atwater, one of two suspects is the case, subpoenaed several news outlets, including WRAL News, The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh and UNC's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, to produce copies of all publicly aired broadcasts, Web site articles, newspaper articles, blog postings and user comments regarding the case.

Chief Judge James A. Beaty quashed the subpoenas, ruling that the material is essentially available to the defendants on their own and that requiring media outlet to provide it would be "burdensome, unreasonable and oppressive."

The outlets, however, do have to provide information regarding circulation and demographic data for their coverage areas, he ruled.

Atwater's attorneys have asked Beaty to consider a change in venue out of state for Atwater's upcoming federal trial on charges of kidnapping and carjacking. They say he would be unable to get a fair trial because of the "staggering" amount of coverage surrounding the case.

Defense attorneys cite a statewide survey that found 80 percent of respondents had some knowledge of the case and that 52 percent believe Atwater is guilty and should be sentenced to death.

Jury selection in the case began Feb. 22; the trial, which will be in Greensboro, is expected to begin in Winston-Salem in May. Atwater could face the death penalty if he's convicted.

Atwater also faces state charges in Carson's death, including first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, felonious larceny and felonious possession of stolen goods. If convicted, he could also face the death penalty on the murder charge.

A trial date, however, has not been set, for those charges.

Authorities say he and another man, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., kidnapped Carson in the early hours of March 5, 2008, 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, who was 17 when Carson was killed, also faces several charges, including first-degree murder. He is not eligible for the death penalty under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the executions of people under 18 at the time a crime was committed.