Prosecutor: Lovette plotted Duke student’s death

Jul. 18, 2014 @ 07:20 PM

The man accused of murdering a Duke University graduate student planned the killing “cold-bloodedly,” a Durham prosecutor told jurors Friday.

“If looks could kill, from the first moment Laurence Lovette laid eyes on Abhijit Mahato on Jan. 18, 2008, Abhijit was a dead man,” Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said during opening remarks in Durham County Superior Court.

Dornfried said a key prosecution witness, Shanita Love, will testify that she heard Lovette admit to the slaying and talk about it as they drove past the victim’s apartment after Mahato was robbed and killed.

Lovette killed Mahato “cold-bloodedly, without any provocation,” Dornfried told the jury of 10 women and two men.

Mahato, a 29-year-old engineering student, was found dead the night of Jan. 18, 2008, at Anderson Street Apartments near Duke’s campus. He was found shot once in the head, lying on the floor on his back, with a blood-stained pillow over his face.

Lovette, 23, is charged with robbery and first-degree murder in Mahato’s death.

Dornfried told the jury he has no “smoking gun” of forensic evidence to present. But he said testimony from Love will be compelling.

Love was the girlfriend of Demario Atwater, who along with Lovette was convicted in 2008 of murdering Eve Carson, student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In her opening remarks, defense attorney Karen Bethea-Shields said Lovette is like a person in Velcro -- wrapped in a presumption of innocence. She said prosecutors have the burden of proving guilt, and urged jurors to only consider evidence presented in court, leaving “egos at the door.”

She predicted that prosecutors will fail to show that Lovette is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

During the afternoon, jurors were shown graphic photos of the victim on his apartment floor with his broken eyeglasses nearby.

Cathy Lipsey, a retired forensics technician with the Durham Police Department, photographed the crime scene. She said the pillow found over Mahato’s face was blood-stained and had gunshot residue. There was blood spatter on a door.

Lipsey said the victim was shot once in the head and a shell casing was found nearby. An examination of Mahato’s hands showed no evidence of a struggle, she said.

Lipsey tried to lift fingerprints from Mahato’s apartment, but said she got nothing usable.

Earlier in the day, presiding Judge Jim Hardin denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against Lovette. The motion accused prosecutors of failing to fully disclose notes made by investigators in a timely way. They complained they hadn’t received until this week police notes of a Chapel Hill police detective who interviewed Love on Oct. 1, 2008.

Hardin ruled that prosecutors had acted in “good faith” in complying with “discovery rules” requiring the District Attorney’s Office to give defense counsel relevant investigatory information.

Testimony is expected to resume Monday morning.