Local News

Defense says police assaulted UNC murder suspect

Posted March 30, 2010 8:02 a.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2010 2:50 p.m. EDT

— Defense attorneys for a man facing federal charges in the death of the UNC's former student body president claim he was beaten by Durham police during his arrest.

In court documents filed Monday, attorneys for Demario James Atwater claim arresting officers hit their client when he was voluntarily lying on the sidewalk with his hands outstretched and beaten inside a police car while he was handcuffed.

Attorneys claim that Associated Press photos taken of Atwater after his arrest show fresh abrasions on his face.

Atwater was arrested in Durham on March 12, 2008 but transported to Chapel Hill, where police found the body of Eve Marie Carson seven days earlier.

Atwater faces a number of federal charges, including kidnapping and carjacking, resulting in Carson's shooting death. His federal trial is scheduled to begin in May, and if convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

State authorities say he, as well as Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., kidnapped Carson, forced her to withdraw money from ATMs, shot her five times and left her on a residential street near the UNC campus.

Atwater's attorneys also claim that statements their client made during a three-hour police interrogation at the Chapel Hill Police Department show that he was fearful for his life.

Atwater was afraid he would be beaten or killed once the interrogation was completed or if he angered the investigating officers by invoking his right to a lawyer, attorneys claim.

Throughout the taped interview, Chapel Hill Police Department Investigator Rodney Newcomer attempts to reassure Atwater that he is safe, according to the filing. At one point, Atwater tells the officer, “I’m about to get killed.”

Attorneys are seeking to suppress any statements Atwater made outside of the interrogation room. They also say the interrogator violated state law by not taping the entire interview and that the interrogator asked Atwater questions on an unrecorded smoke break.

Chapel Hill Police Department declined to comment on Tuesday.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said no complaint has ever been filed by Atwater or his attorneys. He did not comment further.

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.

Lovette also faces several state charges, including first-degree murder, but he does not face federal charges. Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he is ineligible for the death penalty because he was under age 18 at the time of his alleged crime.