DURHAM — A judge heard arguments but made no decision Friday on whether to move Laurence Lovette’s murder trial in the 2008 death of a Duke University graduate student out of Durham.
Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin said he would make his decision the week of Dec. 16. In the meantime, he suggested Lovette’s attorneys and prosecutors prepare proposed orders for each other’s response and his consideration.
Lovette’s lawyers, Karen Bethea-Shields and Kevin Bradley, argued that Lovette could not get a fair trial in Durham County due to his conviction for killing UNC-Chapel Hill student body President Eve Carson and the two murders’ association in press reports.
They asked that the trial be moved to Wilmington or Elizabeth City, outside the area where the Carson murder, Lovette’s conviction and the Durham killing of Duke student Abhijit Mahato have received extensive news coverage and public interest. Alternatively, they requested a “special venire” to summon jurors from outside the Durham area to hear the case.
Assistant District Attorney James Dornfried opposed their motion, saying that, since Mahato was killed in Durham County, the case should be heard by Durham County citizens. He said Bethea-Shields and Bradley are “very talented attorneys” able to weed out prejudiced potential jurors.
Bethea-Shields and Bradley said finding an unbiased jury pool would be very difficult, citing a survey prepared by N.C. Central University psychologist Dwayne Brandon.
The survey, taken this summer in Durham, Orange and Alamance counties, found half of the respondents who had heard of Lovette in connection with a Duke graduate student’s murder believed that Lovette had been involved in the killing.
Dornfried argued that the survey had little meaning, since there were only 92 respondents out of the approximately 574,000 residents in the three counties, and of those only 32 had heard of Lovette’s association with a Duke student’s death.
He also stressed that the survey questioners did not ask respondents whether they thought they could give Lovette an impartial hearing.
“That was not part of the data we collected,” Brandon said. “We wanted to know about the nature of the information people had.”