HILLSBOROUGH — For the second time in 18 months, an Orange County judge on Monday sentenced Laurence Alvin Lovette to a lifetime in prison for murdering UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson in 2008.
Lovette, 22, and his attorneys called psychologist James Hilkey as their sole witness in an effort to persuade Judge Allen Baddour that the convicted killer should have an opportunity for parole 25 years from now.
Hilkey said that he found Lovette to be a “cold, callous, unsympathetic and self-centered individual” when they first met in August 2008, almost six months after Carson was murdered.
But since then, Hilkey said he has developed a slightly different opinion, that he had seen some compassion in Lovette, but finding it was akin to “peeling back an onion.”
Hilkey testified that he could not say for certain that Lovette was so “irretrievably corrupted” that there was not a possibility for rehabilitation. But he also conceded upon cross-examination by District Attorney Jim Woodall that there also was a possibility that Lovette would not change for the better during his years in prison.
Lovette, who did not testify at his trial and awaits trial in a second murder case in Durham, spoke against the advice of his attorneys.
“People make mistakes,” Lovette said. “Nobody’s perfect. I’m not the monster y’all made me out to be.”
Woodall, though, described Lovette as a “predator,” the “uncommon case” of someone who deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“He does not care about consequences, and he does not care about other people,” Woodall said.
The case was sent back to Orange County Superior Court for a new sentencing hearing by the state Court of Appeals after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in another homicide case involving a teenager.
The nation’s highest court ruled in June 2012 that an automatic sentence of life without possibility of parole for people who were younger than 18 when they committed murder was “cruel and unusual punishment” and a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
States were forced to change laws because of that ruling. In North Carolina, a judge now must hold a sentencing hearing to consider mitigating factors before issuing a life sentence with no possibility for parole if the person convicted of premeditated murder was younger than 18 at the time of the crime.
Lovette was 17 in March 2008, when prosecutors contend he and DeMario Atwater kidnapped Carson, 22, from her home early in the morning. They forced Carson into the back seat of her SUV, drove her to ATMs and withdrew cash. Carson’s body was found near dawn in the middle of the street in a wooded Chapel Hill neighborhood about a mile from her home and the UNC campus. She had been shot four times with a handgun and once with a shotgun. Atwater, who is serving life in prison for murder, kidnapping, robbery and carjacking, fired the shotgun. Lovette fired the first four shots, investigators said.
“This is one of the most heinous crimes I’ve ever prosecuted,” Woodall told Baddour on Monday.
With Carson’s parents sitting behind him, Woodall described their daughter as a college student doing the right thing. She was studying when Lovette and Atwater came into her home. They drove her around as she pleaded with her assailants and asked them to pray with her.
When Lovette was arrested on charges of kidnapping, robbery and murder, he was living with his mother, Melissa Lovette, on Shepherd Street in Durham.
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 grew erratic and dangerous, family friends said. He was incarcerated in youth detention centers for breaking into homes, grabbing purses and car keys.
“At just over 17 years old, he had victimized numerous people,” Woodall said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling specified that some teens act impulsively because their brains are not fully formed and that should be taken into account in sentencing them.
Woodall said Lovette’s crimes were “not impulsive acts.”
“Laurence Lovette is the uncommon case,” he said. “He’s a predator. He was a predator on March 5, 2008 (when Carson was killed). He’s a predator today. He will be a predator until the end of his life.”