Jury seated in Lovette trial

Jul. 17, 2014 @ 07:47 PM

A jury of 10 women and two men was seated Thursday in Durham County Superior Court in the trial of a man accused of murdering a Duke University graduate student.

Opening remarks from defense and prosecuting attorneys are expected today, followed by testimony.

Also Thursday, defense lawyers asked a judge to throw out indictments against their client or block certain testimony, claiming prosecutors failed to provide them timely information about a key witness’s plan to testify.

The defendant, Laurence Lovette, 23, is implicated in the 2008 robbery and slaying of Abhijit Mahato in an interview with a police officer who testified Thursday during the motion hearing. 

Defense attorneys Karen Bethea-Shields and Kevin Bradley say they learned only a few days ago about prosecutors’ plans to call a key witness to testify about “purported admissions” made to her by Lovette.

They complain of “intentional, untimely disclosure of material evidence obtained by the lead investigator.”

Bethea-Shields said it wasn’t until after jury selection began Monday that she got notes from a 2008 Chapel Hill police interview in which witnesses said Lovette admitted killing Mahato. Witnesses told Chapel Hill police Sgt. Celisa Lehew that Lovette and another teen killed Mahato and laughed when they saw news reports about another man’s arrest in the case.

Lovette’s lawyers seek to block testimony from a key prosecution witness and certain police investigators if the judge denies their request to dismiss charges.

According to investigators, the victim’s wallet and cellphone were stolen and his iPod was found by police when Lovette was arrested for the 2008 murder of Eve Carson, student body president at UNC Chapel Hill. Lovette is serving a life sentence without parole for that slaying.

If convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Mahato, Lovette could get life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.

Mahato, a graduate engineering student at Duke, was originally from India. His body was found Jan. 18, 2008, at his residence at Anderson Street Apartments a few blocks from campus.

In February 2013, prosecutors dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Stephen Lavance Oates in Mahato’s death after witnesses changed their stories. Oates was arrested five days after the death of Mahato.

Judge Jim Hardin said he will rule on the defense attorneys’ motion today after he receives more information, including a “sticky note” from an investigator about an interview related to the slaying.

Three alternate jurors were approved Thursday -- two women and a man. Alternates hear testimony but don’t participate in deliberations unless a regular juror can’t.