Shanita Love, who is expected to be a key witness in the murder trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette, told a judge Tuesday that she overheard Lovette say he shot and killed Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato in 2008.
“It was said that he had shot the man, but he put a pillow to the gun, and I believe he shot him in the upper body part, like around the head,” Love testified.
Lovette, 23, is on trial for the robbery and slaying of Mahato, who was a graduate student from India studying engineering at Duke University when his friends discovered his body in his apartment on Anderson Street on Jan. 18, 2008. He had been shot in the head.
Lovette and Love’s former boyfriend, Demario Atwater, are serving life sentences for killing UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Eve Carson on March 5, 2008. According to Love, Atwater was not involved in the killing of Mahato, but his younger brother Philip Mabrey was.
Mabrey, who was 14 or 15 at the time of the Mahato homicide, has not been charged in the case.
It was an unusual day in the courtroom Tuesday. The jury was not present to hear Love’s testimony, and at times, the judge was not in the courtroom as Lovette’s attorneys played audio and video recordings of Love being interviewed by various law enforcement officers in 2008 and 2009.
They played the recordings so Love could refresh her memory about what she told investigators six years ago. When she finished listening to the recordings, Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin returned to the courtroom, and Love returned to the stand to continue her testimony.
Hardin heard Love’s testimony as well as testimony from police officers and other witnesses without the jury being present so he can decide whether jurors should hear all or only part of that testimony.
Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried, Love said she had moved in with Atwater at the apartment he shared with his mother, Peggy Mabrey, and her other children, including Philip Mabrey, in late 2007.
On Jan. 18, 2008, Love said she was getting ready for work when other people in the apartment, including Lovette, began talking about Philip Mabrey, who didn’t come home that night. Atwater and Lovette left to look for him and then returned a short time later to take Love to work.
As they got into the vehicle, she heard Lovette say he and Philip Mabrey had killed a guy that stayed in the Anderson Apartments, she said.
“They had taken him to an ATM machine and took him back to the apartment,” she said.
Atwater drove her to her job at a sub shop across from Duke Hospital with Lovette in the back seat, and as they drove past the Anderson Apartments, they all looked over to see whether any police officers were there, she said.
“He said there was no activity as far as a crime scene, so the body was not found yet,” she said.
Under cross-examination by Lovette’s attorney, Karen Bethea-Shields, Love admitted she initially told law enforcement officers investigating Carson’s slaying that she knew nothing about “the Durham murder” and that Lovette was not involved in it.
Later, however, when she was in a car with Chapel Hill Police Investigator Celisa Lehew, who was the lead investigator in the Carson case, Love told Lehew she had overheard Lovette telling Atwater that he and Philip Mabrey had killed Mahato.
The hearing without the jury present is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It’s expected the jurors will return to the courtroom about 11 a.m. to continue hearing testimony.