Witness: Lovette admitted killing Duke student

Jul. 22, 2014 @ 08:56 PM

A witness testified Tuesday that Laurence Lovette admitted robbing and fatally shooting a Duke University graduate student in 2008.

Shanita Love said that later in the day after the slaying of Abhijit Mahato at Anderson Street Apartments, she and Lovette drove past the complex on the way to Love’s job, and Lovette remarked that Mahato’s body apparently was still lying in his apartment because police weren’t there.

When police later arrested another man for the crime, Lovette expressed relief that he was “cleared,” she said. Charges against the man, Stephen Oates, were later dropped.

Love also testified in Durham County Superior Court that Lovette discussed other robberies he had committed. She said one was the theft of a Mercedes after Lovette broke into a home off  Shannon Road and stole the car keys while the resident was asleep. Another involved a robbery at Colonial Apartments where “a Mexican guy was shot in the leg.”

Love is the former girlfriend of Demario Atwater, who, along with Lovette, is serving a life sentence for the March 5, 2008, murder of Eve Carson, student body president at UNC Chapel Hill.

She said Atwater and Lovette “drew comparisons” in the deaths of Mahato and Carson, both of whom were forced to withdraw money from an ATM machine before they were shot to death.

“They said Carson was kind of pleading with them to let her go,” Love testified.

She said Lovette told her he shot Carson four times “and she was still moving,” so Atwater shot her again, using a sawed-off shotgun they called a “baby gauge.”

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried with the jury out of the courtroom, Love said she overheard Lovette say he and Phillip Maybrey had taken Mahato, an engineering student at Duke, to an ATM machine and then back to Mahato’s apartment. She said Lovette told her that Maybrey was present during the shooting, and that they stole a camcorder, iPod and cellphone from the victim’s apartment.

After the slaying, Love said, she saw Maybrey flashing money.

Love said Lovette preferred robbing people on Fridays and weekends, because “they were partying and coming back home drunk.”

In other testimony Tuesday outside the jury’s presence, a Chapel Hill police detective said Love had opened up to her about what she knew of Mahato’s death.

Officer Celisa Lehew, who investigated the Carson murder, said she and Love talked in her patrol car on Oct. 16, 2008 -- nine months after Mahato was killed.

“She told me she had something to tell me -- that it was not Stephen Oates, but Phillip Maybrey and Lawrence Lovette who killed Mr. Mahato,” Lehew said. “She went on to tell me that they had driven (to the victim’s apartment) in a Mercedes. She said they (Maybrey and Lovette) had taken him to an ATM after seeing him walking across the parking lot and followed him to his apartment.”

The detective said Love told her that when they returned to Mahato’s apartment from the ATM, Mahato “was shot in the head with a pillow covering his head.”

According to Love, money was the motive in the deaths of Mahato and Carson. Love said Lovette’s 9 mm gun was used to kill Mahato. But before Carson was killed two months later, she said, someone stole Lovette’s gun, which explains why a different weapon was used to kill Carson.

Lehew said Love told her Lovette and Maybrey had laughed when they learned from news reports that the wrong man -- Oates -- had been charged with killing Mahato.

“They knew that somebody else had been charged, and that the police wouldn’t be looking for them,” she said.

Maybrey currently faces no charges in Mahato’s death, but prosecutors have not offered him immunity for his testimony, leaving open the possibility of a future case against him.

In his testimony Monday, Maybrey, 22, said he lied when he told Durham police he was with Lovette the night Mahato was killed. Maybrey is Demario Atwater’s brother.

Presiding Judge Jim Hardin will decide how much testimony from Love, Lehew and a Durham police detective the jury will be allowed to hear.