GREENSBORO — Four days before the presidential transfer of power, the U.S. attorney general authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in their carjacking and weapons cases against Demario Atwater.
Atwater, 22, is one of two suspects accused of kidnapping and murdering Eve Carson, the UNC-Chapel Hill student body president found shot to death last March.
The federal charges came in October after a grand jury indicted Atwater.
He also faces the death penalty in Orange County, where a jury has not sent anybody to death row since 1973.
Laurence Alvin Lovette, 18, is also charged with murder and kidnapping in the Carson killing.
Because he was 17 at the time of the incident, state prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty against Lovette.
Investigators have said that Atwater and Lovette kidnapped Carson early in the morning of March 5 and forced her to withdraw $1,400 from automated teller machines before they shot her with a .25-caliber handgun and a sawed-off shotgun.
Federal carjacking charges can carry a death sentence if prosecutors show the crime occurred during the commission of a homicide.
In December, Atwater pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
The judge scheduled the trial for November, meaning Atwater could remain in federal custody until that time.
But it's not clear which trial will happen first.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall and defense lawyers representing Atwater in the state case might try to persuade federal prosecutors to let them move ahead with their case first.
Anna Mills Wagoner, a federal prosecutor for the Middle District of North Carolina, which includes Durham and Orange counties, said Friday that Michael B. Mukasey, the outgoing U.S. attorney general, had issued the decision to seek the death penalty.
Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated as president on Tuesday, has named Eric Holder, a former prosecutor, as his choice to succeed Mukasey.
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