HILLSBOROUGH — For nearly a week and a half jurors have been in Orange County Superior Court as prosecutors and defense questioned 44 witnesses in the trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., accused of murdering UNC student leader Eve Carson.
Through graphic and unsettling testimony, Judge Allen Baddour reminded the men and women often that they were not to discuss the case with anyone. They were not to read or watch news accounts of the trial and they were to keep an open mind until all evidence -- 144 exhibits and dozens of hours of testimony -- was introduced.
At 3:40 p.m., Baddour gave the seven men and five women a new set of instructions. They were now free to deliberate among themselves, behind closed doors, the details of the trial they had been prohibited from discussing.
This came after almost four hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and the defense.
Defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields told the jury that one key person was absent from the list of witnesses prosecutors called.
DeMario Atwater, the 25-year-old Durham man who pleaded guilty last year to his part in murdering Carson, was not called to testify during the seven days of testimony.
Lovette pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, robbing and murdering the 2008 UNC-Chapel Hill student body president.
Bethea-Shields summed up the defense for jurors this afternoon.
"The state's burden was to give you everything you needed to figure out what happened on March 5, 2008," Bethea-Shields said.
Prosecutors contend Lovette was Atwater's accomplice in a crime that rocked a college town and others across the country and around the world who had been moved by the benevolence of the student leader.
They argued that witness testimony, DNA evidence, shell casings and bullets and surveillance camera images put Lovette at the scene of the crimes.
"DeMario Atwater was not brought into court after pleading guilty," Bethea-Shields said. "He could have answered many of the questions you still have."
Bethea-Shields asked the jurors in her opening statement to consider what would happen during the trial as something similar to writing a book.
The prosecutors wrote the early chapters, Bethea-Shields contended, with special acknowledgements to Shanita Love, the girlfriend of Atwater who was a key prosecutor witness, and Jayson McNeil, a Durham man with a long criminal record who implicated Lovette in the kidnapping, robbery and murder charges linked to Carson's death.
The jurors get to write the last chapter, Bethea-Shields contended, and she argued there were many lingering questions they should consider.
Defense attorney Kevin Bradley argued that perhaps police should looked for a light-skinned African-American male who was inches taller than the 25-year-old Durham man who pleaded guilty last year to murdering Eve Carson.
Defense attorney Kevin Bradley contended today that jurors should look at ATM images and security camera footage in a different light than that presented by prosecutors.
Prosecutors argued during their opening arguments that footage from a bank and sorority camera could link Lovette and Atwater.
His attorneys maintain others might have been with Atwater in Chapel Hill and Durham in the pre-dawn hours that day.
Bradley and Bethea-Shields have spent the past week and a half trying to poke holes in the testimony of witnesses, their accounts of what happened, any tests they did and other evidence.
Lovette did not take the stand in his own defense and his attorneys did not put on any evidence in the case.
Bradley argued that their client is only an inch taller than Atwater, but security camera footage shows someone much taller than that.
Bradley argued that images showed a much lighter skinned man with much longer hair and a thinner face than the defendant.
Defense attorneys contend that key witnesses for the prosecutors had "bias" and "motive" for implicating their client. They maintain that perhaps one of those witnesses was Atwater's accomplice, not their client.
"It's very easy to tell a lie when the events are true, you're just changing the identity," Bradley said.
District Attorney Jim Woodall, in anticipation of the defense team's closing arguments, tried to bat back questions about some of his key witnesses in his last words with the jurors.
Woodall argued that prosecutors did not get to choose the people the defendant confided in or asked for help disposing of weapons.
Many of the witnesses had criminal records or were in jeopardy of being accused of crimes.
"You don't get choirboys and the good samaritans to help you go throw away many murder weapons," Woodall said.
Typically, Woodall said, someone with their own troubles with the law would be more inclined to take part.
Those were the people, Woodall argued, who the defendant asked for help in the hours and days after Carson's body was found, people who since talked with investigators.
"Sometimes people get scared," Woodall said. "Sometimes people have something to gain."
Prosecutors contend Lovette and Atwater rushed Carson outside her home on March 5, 2008, at about 3:40 a.m. They forced Carson into the backseat of her Toyota Highlander, prosecutors argue, then drove her to ATMs in Chapel Hill and Durham and forced the withdrawal of hundreds of dollars from her account.
In the days after the shooting, prosecutors contend the defendant broke up the handgun used in the homicide and then disposed of it in three places in Durham.
Then almost a week later, when Atwater was being arrested, prosecutors argue Lovette described his actions in great detail to a friend who later testified during the trial.
Carson was praying in the back seat of her Toyota Highlander as her abductors withdrew money from an ATM shortly before her death.
Assistant District Attorney James Rainsford slowed down footage from a surveillance camera to point that out as closing arguments begin in the trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr.
The grainy image shows the paper "Be True" bracelet that police found wrapped around Carson's wrist the day she was found shot to death in a Chapel Hill neighborhood about a mile from her home.
That arm is bent in prayer.
Rainsford, who was the first to offer closing arguments, walked jurors back through evidence presented during the seven days of testimony in Orange County Superior Court.
"This case is such a tragedy," Rainsford said. "What the defendant did to Eve Carson was greedy, miserable and cruel. It was useless, and that's what murder is,"
"The evidence presented in this case allows us to literally look back in time to March 5, 2008 and look as these tragic events unfolded," Rainford said.
"The evidence that's been provided in this case allows us to literally look back in time and watch this tragic event, as it unfolds," Rainsford added.
Rainsford started with video images from a security camera at a sorority house about a block from the Friendly Lane home where Carson lived with three other students.
The footage shows two darkly clad males walking out from behind a trash bin in the direction of the Carson house.
Then he showed images from an ATM, where Carson's bank card was used at 3:55 a.m.
Rainsford argued that four witnesses testified during the past week and a half that Lovette was the person pictured in the driver's seat of Carson's Highlander.
Carson, who was 22 at the time of her death, was finishing up her final weeks as student body president.
"Eve Carson had the power to persuade," Rainsford said.
"When she asked the defendant to pray with her, he shot her. She used her power of persuasion and that's what happened."
Rainsford described the defendant as "miserable, greedy and cruel, that's the face of murder."
The defense will get the last word with the jury.
The jury is likely to get the case this afternoon.
Jurors will be asked to decide whether the state proved its case on charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery and kidnapping.
Atwater is serving a life sentence in federal court.
Woodall argued that jurors could find evidence to convict Lovette on all charges under many different parts of the law.
Woodall argued that Lovette acted in concert with Atwater.
Jurors must find the defendant acted with premeditation and deliberation to convict him of first-degree murder.
Carson was found dead on March 5, 2008, shortly before dawn at the intersection of Hillcrest Circle and Hillcrest Drive, a dark, wooded area about a mile from her home and the UNC-CH campus.
She had been shot by a handgun in the buttocks, arm, shoulder and cheek. Prosecutors contend Lovette fired those shots, then Atwater fired the final blast to her right temple from a sawed-off shotgun that, according to a medical examiner report, was immediately fatal.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy reported that Carson would have been mobile and able to talk after the first four shots and might have survived had she received immediate help.
Woodall argued the jury could find the defendant guilty of murder simply by being at the scene of the crimes or "acting in concert."
Woodall went on to argue that firing the handgun that injured Carson was enough for jurors to find first-degree murder.
"Quite literally," Woodall said, "pointing the gun is premeditation. Pulling the trigger is all that's needed to prove deliberation."
Blythe: email@example.com or 919 836-4948