Court denies Lovette’s appeal but sends case back for resentencing

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 05:53 PM

Laurence Lovette Jr., who was convicted of kidnapping, robbing and murdering UNC’s student body president in 2008, will be sent back to an Orange County courtroom to be resentenced

The N.C. Court of Appeals issued its ruling on the case Tuesday morning, saying it was vacating Lovette’s life sentence without parole and sending the case back for another sentencing hearing. The ruling does not mean Lovette can’t again be sentenced to life in prison without parole, but the court will have to hold a special hearing before that could happen.

In the same opinion, the Court denied Lovette’s appeal of his murder, kidnapping and robbery convictions, including his claims that one indictment was defective, that prosecutors asked potential jurors improper questions while selecting a jury, that the judge abused his discretion by denying three of Lovette’s challenges for cause during jury selection, and that he had ineffective assistance of counsel.

“I was very happy about the ruling because they found no error,” Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said about the denial of Lovette’s four claims.

Woodall expected the ruling that Lovette would need to be resentenced, he said.

“We always knew we were going to be resentencing him since the Supreme Court ruling, so that was no surprise,” Woodall said.

The resentencing decision came about after Lovette filed a motion for appropriate relief because of a ruling by the United States Supreme Court in June 2012 that said a court cannot impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a defendant who was under 18 when he committed the crime. North Carolina then passed its own law to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Lovette was 17 when he and Demario Atwater kidnapped Eve Carson from her home on East Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill in March 2008, then drove her to ATMs to withdraw money from her account, then shot and killed her.

When Lovette is returned to Orange County to be resentenced, the court must hold a hearing to consider any mitigating circumstances, including those that might be related to his age, his level of maturity and ability to benefit from rehabilitation, before he is resentenced.

The court could then resentence him to life without parole or life with parole, Woodall said.

“He could still receive the same sentence,” Woodall said. “He would still receive a life sentence, but with the possibility of life with parole or life without parole.”

After a jury found Lovette guilty of murder, robbery and kidnapping, Woodall asked the judge to sentence Lovette to additional time for the kidnapping and robbery convictions in addition to the life without parole sentence for the murder.

That means if Lovette is resentenced and receives a life with parole sentence, and at some point he is paroled on the murder conviction, he would still have to serve 14½ to 18½ years for the other convictions before he could be released. 

While many focused on the fact that Lovette would have to be resentenced, Woodall said the important news for him was that the Court of Appeals denied Lovette’s appeal.

“That ruling was exactly what I expected and what I hoped for,” he said.

The verdict was unanimous by the three-judge Court of Appeals panel, but Lovette could still request a discretionary review by the N.C. Supreme Court, Woodall said.

Woodall won’t schedule the resentencing hearing until the Supreme Court makes a decision whether to review the case, which could happen within 90 days, he said.

“I think we’ll know pretty quickly,” Woodall said.

Lovette’s co-defendant, Atwater, who was 21 at the time of the murder, was prosecuted in federal court and sentenced to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to the federal charges associated with Carson’s kidnapping, robbery and murder. He then came back and pleaded guilty in Orange County Superior Court to murder and was sentenced to life in prison for that.

Atwater is at Terre Haute United States Penitentiary in Indiana, a high-security facility for male inmates.

Lovette is at Lanesboro Correctional Institute in Polkton about 40 miles southeast of Charlotte. Lanesboro is a 1,000-cell high-security prison.