Jury hears key witness implicate Lovette

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 07:24 PM

For the first time, a Durham County Superior Court jury heard a prosecution witness in the slaying of a Duke University student implicate Laurence Lovette, the man accused of murdering him.

The witness, Shanita Love, also testified that she heard Lovette say he shot Eve Carson four times, and when she asked for mercy, Demario Atwater fired a fifth shot into the UNC student body president and killed her.

It was a dramatic day of testimony Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of Lovette, accused of robbing Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato in January 2008 after forcing him to go to an ATM machine and withdraw cash. Prosecutors believe Lovette then drove Mahato back to the student’s apartment, put a pillow over his face and shot him once in the head.

Love had testified Tuesday outside the jury’s presence during a hearing to determine whether to block her testimony, as defense attorneys requested. They also wanted to prevent testimony about two other crimes Lovette allegedly committed around the time Mahato was killed -- a car theft and an attempted robbery and shooting.

But presiding Judge Jim Hardin ruled that the testimony is admissible, with some restrictions. That cleared the way for testimony from Love, the ex-girlfriend of Demario Atwater, who, along with Lovette, is serving a life sentence for murdering Carson.

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried, Love said she heard Lovette admit he robbed and shot Mahato on Jan. 18, 2008.

She testified hearing Lovette say that he and another man, Phillip Maybrey, “encountered” Mahato at Anderson Street Apartments near the Duke campus, took him to an ATM machine and returned Mahato to his apartment, where Lovette shot him in the head through a pillow. 

Later that morning, as she rode to her job with Lovette and Atwater, they passed the crime scene and Lovette “looked over in that direction and said: ‘Well, they haven’t found the body because there’s no police activity there, so the body must still be there,” Love testified.

Love said Lovette admitted stealing a camcorder, iPod and cellphone from Mahato’s apartment.

As for the money taken from the ATM, she said, Lovette and Maybrey “split it,” although Lovette later lost his share and a 9 mm gun to a robber.

She said Lovette planned to use the money to buy another gun.

Love said she heard Lovette talk about committing two other crimes:

-- Trying to rob a Latino man at Colonial Apartments on Chapel Hill Road and firing a gun, possibly wounding him.

-- Stealing a Mercedes after kicking in a door at a home off Shannon Road while the resident, described as an “older woman,” slept. Love said Lovette grabbed the car keys and drove off.

Later, when Durham police arrested the wrong man -- Stephen Oates -- in Mahato’s death, Lovette breathed “a sigh of relief that he wasn’t going to get caught because someone else was being charged with it,” Love said.

Charges against Oates were later dropped.

Love said that in March 2008, when Eve Carson was murdered, Lovette and Atwater learned from news reports that she was UNC student body president.

“They were saying that’s why she was asking for them to let her go and that she could help them, and that things would be OK, I guess,” Love said. “They was like: ‘Aw, we didn’t know that she was somebody important.”

Love said she heard them say that Lovette shot Carson four times “and that she was still talking and then (Atwater) shot her a fifth time and killed her,” using a “baby gauge,” a nickname for the household’s sawed-off shotgun.