Jury deliberations resume Tuesday in Lovette trial

Jul. 28, 2014 @ 06:54 PM

Jury deliberations resume Tuesday in Durham County Superior Court in the robbery and first-degree murder trial of Laurence Lovette.

During closing arguments Monday, prosecutors painted Lovette as a cold-blooded killer who cut short a promising future of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, who was fatally shot at his Durham apartment Jan. 18, 2008.

But Lovette’s attorneys said the prosecution fell far short of proving that Lovette murdered Mahato. Defense lawyer Karen Bethea-Shields said the state's case was full of “sound and fury” built with “hot air and cotton candy.”

Shields said the state promised the jury it would deliver credible evidence to show Lovette is guilty of robbery and first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. She said it failed to meet its burden.

She called the prosecutor’s case a “shell game,” with frequent references to the 2008 death of Eve Carson, student body president at UNC Chapel Hill who was murdered in 2008. Lovette is serving a life sentence for killing Carson.

Shields told the jury of 10 women and two men that the case is about the death of Mahato, not Carson.

Lovette’s other attorney, Kevin Bradley, said the state’s evidence failed to show that Lovette was involved in Mahato’s robbery or death.

But in his final remarks, Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried called Lovette a “cold-blooded” person who shot Mahato with malice and premeditation.

Dornfried said Mahato, who had come from his native India to study engineering at Duke, was robbed of his “dreams, hopes and aspirations.”

“He had a vision for his future and was working toward it,” Dornfried said. “He saw a future. But he didn’t see a future ripped from him. What he saw was Laurence Lovette’s face before he put a pillow over his face and shot him.”

“We'll never know if Mahato tried to reason with Lovette like Eve Carson did,” Dornfried said.

Dornfried pointed to the credibility of his key witness - Shanita Love, who testified that she heard Lovette admit taking Mahato to an ATM machine and withdrawing $520, then returning Mahato to Anderson Street Apartments near campus, placing a pillow over his face and shooting him in the head.

Love’s testimony also implicated Lovette in the theft of a Mercedes from a home of a sleeping couple the day before Mahato died and the attempted robbery and shooting of a Hispanic man at Colonial Apartments the day after Mahato was killed.

“That’s the person who pulled the trigger,” Dornfried said, pointing to Lovette. “This was up-close and personal. He pushed a gun up to a pillow and blew his brains out.”

Prosecutor Stormy Ellis said all the evidence points to Lovette as Mahato’s killer.

“He took from him one of the most precious things we have - life,” she said.

Ellis said Lovette and another man, Phillip Maybrey, “acted in concert” to rob and kill Mahato.

Maybrey testified last week that he lied to police when he told them he was with Lovette the night Mahato was killed. He currently faces no charges in the death of Mahato, but prosecutors are reviewing his testimony for a possible case against him.

After deliberating about 90 minutes Monday, the jury sent a note to the judge asking to review certain evidence, including a photo of a container on the victim's bed. It also asked about:

- How witnesses are chosen and whether it can consider the absence of certain witnesses.

- Grand jury testimony in the 2008 murder of Eve Carson.

- An audio recording that police made when they talked with Phillip Maybrey, during which Maybrey said he was with Lovette the night Mahato was killed. That recording was played last week in court with the jury absent.

Hardin said, outside the jury’s presence, that he intends to tell jurors today they can review exhibits received and admitted by the court. As for the other questions, Hardin said he will repeat instructions on the burden of proof that the prosecution has to prove guilt.

“That’s the way I’m going to handle that,” Hardin said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be walking into a really difficult spot.”