Sheehan

Agony drags on in killing

Staff WriterMay 7, 2008 

The slaying victim is a beautiful student body president. The two accused have criminal histories, one of them charged in another recent killing.

The community is outraged.

Seems as if, if you're a district attorney, that's a capital case in the bank.

But not in Chapel Hill.

And not in the Eve Carson case.

At this point, the Carson killing is still what Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall describes as something of a "whodunit."

"Not all of the details are nailed down yet," he said during a Tuesday interview in the old Pittsboro courthouse.

Woodall wouldn't say whether this includes uncertainty about which suspect pulled the trigger that ended Carson's life. But unanswered questions are the reason he asked a judge to seal not only the search warrants but also the autopsy in Carson's murder.

By my reading, Woodall's request skates on mighty thin ice when it comes to the state's open records law, which clearly states that autopsies should be made available to the public.

I told Woodall that keeping these reports secret only fuels speculation and conspiracy theories.

Woodall doesn't care.

He said investigators need more time to flesh out their case. And they need to keep a lid on details in the warrants and autopsy to determine whether people they question are telling the truth.

He bristles at any implication that the probe should have already been wrapped up in the two months since the murder.

For one thing, he said, it has been less than 60 days since the suspects, Demario Atwater and Laurence Lovette, were identified.

"People think that's ample time," he said. "Well, I've got news for you: It's not."

For another, Chapel Hill has a small police force. And the State Bureau of Investigation doesn't have limitless resources.

"I think people have this notion that the Chapel Hill Police, or even the SBI, have dozens of investigators working this thing," he said. "They don't have the manpower for that."

Woodall refused to comment on persistent rumors that details in the sealed documents -- or other elements of the investigation -- would indicate gang involvement in Carson's murder.

"That is something I will speak to at the appropriate time," he said.

Meantime, Woodall and his staff have their hands full -- and not just with the high-profile Carson case. The two-county district has been home to a spate of murders -- seven homicides and one vehicular homicide -- since November.

Woodall has called for the death penalty in two Chatham County cases, but has not made a final decision in the "whodunit" Carson case.

This raises another sore point with Woodall: He says many people don't realize he has handled more than eight capital cases in his 18 years as a prosecutor for the two counties.

But Woodall has not pursued a death penalty case in the past 10 years.

And let's not forget -- an Orange County jury has imposed the death penalty only twice in the past 60 years. And only one of those verdicts led to an execution -- in 1948.

So Woodall -- the father of a 21-year-old daughter and the great-nephew of an executed murderer -- walks a delicate line on the state's ultimate punishment.

More on that Friday.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4828

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