Jury acquits Lovette in slaying of Duke student
A Durham County Superior Court jury found Laurence Lovette not guilty Wednesday in the robbery and brutal killing of a Duke University graduate student in 2008.
After the trial, a tearful juror told The Herald-Sun the jury was close to voting for conviction at one point.
“But I had to do a lot of soul searching, and the evidence was just not there,” she said, declining to give her name. “It just was not there. That’s how we came to our verdict.”
The juror said testimony from the state’s key witness, Shanita Love, wasn’t convincing. She said the hardest part of being on the jury was “just coming to terms with the evidence not being there.”
When the verdict was read, a woman in the gallery burst into tears.
Lovette’s reaction was “thank God,” defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields said.
Lovette was quickly removed from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies and returned to prison, where he is serving a life sentence for the March 2008 murder of Eve Carson, student body president at UNC Chapel Hill.
Bethea-Shields and Lovette’s other attorney, Kevin Bradley, said the jury reached the right verdict because the prosecution failed to present credible evidence.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said the state was disappointed by the outcome but accepts the jury’s decision.
“We worked with what we were given,” he said. “Obviously, the defense pointed out certain deficiencies. I would leave that to the Police Department to explain why those deficiencies existed.”
Interim Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback said: “I think that the jury evaluated the case and they just weren’t convinced that the witness (Shanita Love) was credible. There were some other things that may have come into play in the case, but I don’t want to comment on them.”
Despite Lovette’s acquittal, the investigation into Mahato’s death is not over. The prosecutor’s office said last week it’s considering charges against Phillip Maybrey, a friend of Lovette’s who told police he was with Lovette the night Mahato was killed. But when called to testify last week, Maybrey recanted, saying he lied to Durham police investigators who were questioning him and tape recording his answers.
Stanback said Wednesday his office has made no decision on the Maybrey matter.
“We’re still discussing that and we’ll make a decision on Maybrey at some point,” he said.
Maybrey is the half-brother of Demario Atwater, who, along with Lovette, is serving a life sentence without parole for the 2008 murder of Carson.
The prosecution’s case relied heavily on testimony from Love, who at the time of Mahato’s death was Atwater’s girlfriend.
Love testified she heard Lovette say he robbed and shot Mahato at Anderson Street Apartments near campus. She said they later drove by the apartments and that Lovette said the Duke engineering student’s body must still be in his apartment because police hadn’t arrived.
Prosecutors tried to show that Lovette used a Mercedes he allegedly stole the day before Mahato’s death in forcing Mahato to withdraw $520 from an ATM before returning him to his apartment and shooting him in the head through a pillow.
They presented testimony that the day after Mahato’s death on Jan. 18, 2008, Lovette tried to rob a Hispanic man at Colonial Apartments and shot him in the leg, saying Lovette liked to target Hispanics.
In the murder of Eve Carson, Love said Lovette told her he shot the UNC student four times “and she was still moving,” so Atwater shot her again, using a sawed-off shotgun they called a “baby gauge.”
After Wednesday’s verdict, defense attorney Bethea-Shields said the justice system worked as it was designed to.
“I think you saw a jury working like we want our judicial system to work -- applying the law to the facts, holding the state to its burden,” she said. “A lot of people don’t believe in the justice system because we have humans making it up. But when it really works like it did here today, you see that our justice system is probably the best in the world.”
Mahato’s family members from his native India weren’t able to attend the trial. But Mindy Solie, his landlord in 2008, was there throughout. She wept when the verdict was read.
“His family, I know they’re devastated,” she said. “His friends are devastated. I just feel that burden. I feel like, ‘Who cares that this young man died?’ We have to care.”