HILLSBOROUGH — Demario James Atwater pleaded guilty this afternoon to murdering, kidnapping and robbing Eve Carson, the admired 2008 UNC-Chapel Hill student body president.
The 23-year-old Durham man, dressed in a blue shirt and khaki pants, entered his plea in an Orange County Superior Court courtroom as Carson's family watched quietly in the front row.
Wade Smith, a Raleigh lawyer, read a statement from Carson's father Bob Carson, her mother Teresa Bethke and brother Andrew Carson.
"We won't be talking to the court about how our lives are diminished without Eve," Smith said. "The effects of her death are both obvious and personal. We choose not to confront Demario Atwater. The selfishness of taking another's life is incomprehensible."
Instead, Smith said, the family chooses to focus on Eve's courage.
The family said though "today's outcome is neither adequate nor good" it "honors Eve's love of life and all people."
District Attorney Jim Woodall, in presenting some of the facts of the case at a hearing, said the medical examiner's autopsy report showed that Carson was shot five times, with the first four shots from a small caliber handgun.
The first wound was to her right cheek, the second to her right shoulder, the third to her right upper arm and the fourth to the right side of her buttocks, Woodall said. The fifth shot, from a sawed-off shotgun to Carson's temple, was immediately fatal, according to Woodall.
"The medical examiner believed she would have survived for some time after the first four shots," Woodall said, "and she would have been able to talk." Woodall said Atwater confirmed that Carson was able to talk and that she put her right hand to her head as the last shot was fired.
As part of the prcoeeding, which was overseen by Judge Allen Baddour, the state agreed not to seek the death penalty for the crimes.
The plea comes about a month after Atwater pleaded guilty in federal court to federal carjacking, kidnapping and weapons charges in a case that exposed major problems with the state's probation system.
Atwater and his co-defendant Laurence Alvin Lovette, a 19-year-old charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery in the case, were both on probation when investigators found Carson shot to death in a Chapel Hill neighborhood.
Each defendant had scant oversight.
Carson was an honors student who was only two months shy of graduating from a university where she excelled in the classroom and extracurricular activities. Investigators claim that Atwater and Lovette kidnapped Carson early in the morning on March 5, 2008, either from inside her home or right outside the house she shared with other students on Friendly Lane, Woodall said. The two, according to investigators, forced Carson to withdraw $1,400 from automated teller machines before they shot her numerous times with a .25-caliber handgun and the sawed-off shotgun.
Lovette, whose DNA, Woodall said, was found inside Carson's Toyota Highlander, does not face the death penalty because he was 17 in March 2008 when Carson fatally shot. The U.S. Supreme Court deems anyone younger than 18 at the time of a crime too young for execution.
Atwater faced the death penalty in state and federal court.
Though he entered a plea in the federal case last month, Atwater will not be sentenced until Sept. 23. But, according to federal prosecutors, Atwater acknowledged by his guilty plea that he would be sentenced to life in prison.
Carson's parents released a brief statement after the federal plea saying that though they deplored "the evil and negligence that led to Eve's death," they agreed with the federal prosecutors' decision to accept a plea agreement. Prosecutors and lawyers representing the Carson family have acknowledged that they are against the death penalty.
In federal court documents, federal prosecutors described the murder as one that was "especially heinous and cruel" and "involved torture and serious physical abuse to the victim."
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