They were close in age: Eve Carson and her circle of friends and the two accused in her violent death.
No more than 10 miles separated them geographically. But they were worlds apart.
For the past week and a half, as Laurence Alvin Lovette, 21, has stood trial, accused of Carson's murder, he has listened as witnesses filled in pictures of his world and Carson's, and how prosecutors say those worlds collided at random in the early hours of March 5, 2008.
The impact ended Carson's life, brought another suspect life in prison and has left Lovette's future suspended in an Orange County courtroom. The jury is expected to begin its deliberations in the coming week.
Prosecutors contend that Lovette had an accomplice, DeMario Atwater, a 25-year-old who pleaded guilty last year and is serving a life sentence in federal prison. Both men lived in Durham. They were high school dropouts who, according to testimony, circulated among drug dealers and armed robbers.
Carson, 22, then a Universiy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior from Athens, Ga., was the 2008 student body president. She was industrious, well-traveled and planning a big future.
Her housemates - who, perhaps, could have met her fate had they been the ones home alone - have since gone on to ambitious pursuits that might have been hers, starting careers and studying for graduate degrees.
Lovette and his friends, according to prosecutors and the testimony of acquaintances, cared little about school. Atwater, by many accounts, was a marijuana dealer with a big clientele in northern Durham.
Lovette, only 17 at the time of his arrest, aimed to rob people, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall contends. Lovette also planned to shoot those he robbed, Woodall added, to prevent being identified. Lovette is also accused of first-degree murder in the slaying of Abhijit Mahato, a Duke graduate student who was found shot to death in his off-campus apartment in January 2008.
Durham, a city with roots in the tobacco industry, is home to more than 225,000 people. The big employers now in the state's fifth-largest city are Duke University and companies in Research Triangle Park. It is a place of emerging downtown vitality, leafy old neighborhoods with graceful homes and blighted areas afflicted by stubborn crime and poverty.
When Lovette was arrested on charges of kidnapping, robbery and murder, he was living with his mother, Melissa Lovette, on Shepherd Street in Durham. She has attended every day of the trial. When he left the courtroom at the end of each day's proceedings, Lovette waved to her and sometimes blew a kiss before being ushered back to jail.
Melissa Lovette ran a small day care business in the basement of their home - midway between Duke University and N.C. Central University, where her husband and Lovette's father had worked.
After his father died in 2003, Lovette, who was adopted by his parents, grew erratic and dangerous, family friends said. He was incarcerated in youth detention centers for breaking into homes, grabbing purses and car keys.
In March 2008, Lovette was supposed to be under the supervision of the state's probation system, but state Department of Correction records show there was scant to no oversight of the troubled teen. Those same records show the probation system also lost track of Atwater.
Atwater, who grew up in Wake County and Durham, had just moved with his girlfriend and her three small children into his mother's apartment on South Roxboro Street in Durham shortly before Carson's death. The brick apartment with a big number 11 at the door also was where Atwater's younger sister and at least two brothers resided.
Lovette and one of Atwater's younger brothers ran in the same circles.
Atwater, or "Rio," as he was known, is four years older than Lovette, who was known among his friends as "L.A." or Alvin. Despite their age differences, they had acquaintances in common - some known only by first names or colorful nicknames like "Worm," "James the crackhead" and "Phillie," a 31-year-old man with a long arrest record who testified that he has a job and has turned his life around.
Ten miles down the road, Carson's friends also spoke of jobs and school, the UNC campus where nearly 25,000 students of similar ages prepared for their futures.
In a college town with a population of about 57,000, property crimes are common, but there are few shootings and homicides.
Carson and her friends were often out at all hours. Some times it was to socialize; other times they were cramming for exams or dashing off papers.
On the last day of her life, Carson was busy.
Spring break was just days away, and she had schoolwork due.
The Tar Heels basketball team had an 8 p.m. game in the Dean Dome, and Carson arrived about 10 minutes late, rushing in after downing a Cosmic Cantina burrito on the way.
With only a couple of weeks left in her term as student body president, the energetic student leader was juggling her many tasks and obligations.
"She was pulled in so many directions," her housemate Anna Lassiter testified.
Lassiter and Carson had both come to school on prestigious academic scholarships that also provided them an opportunity to travel through Ecuador together one summer.
The house they shared on Friendly Lane was one they had set their sights on their freshman year. It was about a block north of campus and just as close to Chapel Hill's downtown hub of restaurants, bars and T-shirt shops.
Lassiter and Carson often invited friends over for late-night parties, went for runs together that often turned into "walk and talk fests," played flag football with other students and stayed up late cooking - "treats, not nutritious things," Lassiter said with a laugh.
Two male friends lived with them - Justin Singer and Tristan Heinrich.
They had transformed a living room into a bedroom and pushed a bed up against one door that stayed locked. The other door was usually unlocked.
"We were pretty trusting," Lassiter said.
Margaret Wurth had several phone calls from Carson as she waited for her friend outside the Dean Dome on March 4. Carson, a spirited Carolina fan and an advocate for the campus where she had won many admirers, took a break from her studies to watch UNC play Florida State.
"Eve was often late," Wurth said. "It was not very unusual."
The Tar Heels beat the Seminoles handily that night, 90-77.
Wurth left the arena before Carson, knowing the woman she had met in Cuba during a semester abroad was planning to return to her studies later.
As that night turned to early day, Carson and Lassiter had several email exchanges. Lassiter had flown to Boston earlier that day for a job interview.
Neither of the guys were home.
Singer had been studying at his fraternity house that night, taking a break shortly after 1 a.m. to pick up a friend from downtown. When he stopped by the Friendly Lane home shortly after that to pick up a charger and book, Carson was on the couch typing a paper on her laptop computer.
As Singer headed out again, on his way back to the fraternity house, he asked Carson if she wanted him to close the door.
Leave it open, she said.
Innocence and menace
UNC-CH computer technicians told investigators Carson's campus email account was last accessed at 3:37 a.m.
That, prosecutors contend, is when two worlds collided.
That, they say, is when Carson was rushed by Atwater and Lovette as she stepped outside her home with her laptop, possibly on her way to her student government offices to use the printers or copy machine.
That also is when Carson's friends - and the many students whose lives she touched in her four years in Chapel Hill - were forced to consider their own mortality and their vulnerability to happenstance.
Singer had an eerie feeling, he said, when he returned home at 4:30 a.m. to find Carson's Toyota Highlander gone, the front door open and the lights on.
He walked through the house, his car keys positioned in his hand to jab at intruders, calling out for his roommates.
There was silence.
Lassiter recalled her welling worries after not hearing from Carson for hours and then finding her purse on the couch, her backpack on the floor and her Shakespeare book opened to Hamlet.
Then the curtains parted on a real-life tragedy in which innocence and menace played their sad and terrible roles.