Durham News

July 28, 2014

Jury to continue deliberations in Lovette murder trial

The 10 women and two men deliberating the fate of Laurence Alvin Lovette will return to court Tuesday to continue deliberations on accusations that the 23-year-old Durham man robbed and murdered Abhijit Mahato.

The 10 women and two men deliberating the fate of murder suspect Laurence Alvin Lovette left Durham County Superior Court on Monday afternoon with lots of questions but no verdict.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., the jury sent a note to Judge Jim Hardin asking to see evidence, hear police tapes presented at the trial and seeking answers to the process for subpoenaing witnesses, an issue in the case.

They are to return Tuesday morning when some of their questions will be answered.

Lovette, 23, already serving a life sentence for the murder of Eve Carson, is accused of murdering Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University graduate student found shot to death in 2008.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys stitched together evidence Monday morning from five days of testimony to bolster their theories for and against the murder and robbery charges.

Prosecutors contend their accusations that Lovette robbed Mahato on Jan, 18, 2008, of $520, a razor mobile phone, iPod and camcorder and then shot him execution-style between the eyes stick “like Velcro.”

Defense attorneys argue that no physical evidence links Lovette to the murder. They argued that the prosecution’s key witness offered many accounts of the crime and could have pointed the finger at Lovette to cover up the involvement of her boyfriend at the time, his family or perhaps herself.

The jury was instructed to consider two possibilities for first-degree murder. Under one theory, prosecutors contend that Lovette carried out felony murder, meaning he committed the killing while committing another felony – robbery, in this case.

They also argued that he committed pre-meditated murder.

Mahato was a second-year student in the Duke University doctoral engineering program.

The case, prosecutors have said, is largely based on one key witness who testified that she heard Lovette say he killed Mahato, and a string of circumstantial evidence that defense attorneys describe as weak.

Stormy Ellis, an assistant district attorney, told jurors that they should give circumstantial evidence the same weight as direct evidence.

Prosecutors contend that Lovette stopped Mahato outside his Durham apartment on Jan. 18, 2008, and drove him to an ATM about two miles away, where three withdrawals totaling $520 were made within minutes of each other. Prosecutors contend Lovette was involved in a robbery in which a razor phone and camcorder also were taken.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you who took the money from the ATM, who took the cell phone. ... I’m not going to tell you I can tell you that,” Ellis said.

Ellis urged jurors to use their “walking around Wal-Mart common sense” as they pieced together testimony from last week.

Key witness

Shanita Love, the state’s key witness, lived the first three months of 2008 in a Durham apartment that Lovette visited regularly.

Lovette is serving a life sentence in North Carolina prison after being convicted of kidnapping, robbing and murdering Carson, the UNC-Chapel Hill student leader found shot to death in March 2008.

Demario Atwater, Lovette’s co-defendant in that case, is Love’s former boyfriend.

Love was a key witness in the Carson case, too.

Defense attorneys contend Love is not a credible witness and that her story has shifted over the past six years.

Love testified that Lovette was in the car with her and Atwater after Mahato was shot, but before police had been called to the crime scene.

Love said she heard Lovette say: “He’s still in there” and reveal details about a pillow being used to silence the gun.

Mahato was found inside his apartment in the Anderson Drive complex by friends who were worried that he had not responded to texts and phone calls.

Mahato had been shot, execution-style, between the eyes. Medical examiners say he was shot at close range with a gun fired through a pillow held against his head.

A shell casing found next to Mahato’s body was fired from the same 9 mm Luger handgun used in a shooting the day after Mahato’s death.

Love testified that Lovette also admitted to that shooting in which a victim was hit in the leg.

Dueling arguments

Defense attorneys contend that prosecutors are trying the Carson case all over again in the Durham courthouse because the Durham police investigation into the Mahato murder was flawed.

“As the young folks say, ‘Don’t get it twisted,’” defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields told the jury. “This case is not about the murder of Eve Carson. The state has played a shell game of presenting you with evidence of another case. Don’t be confused.”

But Jim Dornfried, the assistant district attorney, argued that prosecutors had presented enough evidence for the charges to stick. He reminded the jury that in his opening statement, prosecutors did not plan to present fingerprints or DNA that would directly link Lovette to the crime. He argued that Love and other more reluctant witnesses had provided the testimony that bolstered the prosecution’s theory.

“Just like Velcro, we’re sticking it right to him,” Dornfried said.

“All of this sticks to him because he did it,” Dornfried argued.

But Kevin Bradley argued after Dornfried that Love waited months after Mahato’s death to provide investigators with details that led them to Lovette.

Love testified that she did so because “it was the right thing to do.”

Bradley and Bethea-Shields pointed out that Love let her children stay in an apartment where she knew Lovette visited often in 2008. They were there in March, when Carson was killed, nearly two months after the Mahato shooting.

“The state wants you to believe it’s weighing on her,” Bradley said. “Do you really believe that? Do you believe she cares about anybody but Shanita Love?”

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