Lovette wants a change of venue for second murder trial
The attorney for Laurence Lovette has filed a motion for a change of venue, saying that too much pre-trial publicity will prevent him from receiving a fair trial in Durham County.
Lovette, who is already serving a life sentence in the death of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson, is also accused of killing a Duke graduate student, Abhijit Mahato, in 2008.
The change of venue motion states that each time the Mahato case is mentioned in the media, the murder of Carson and his conviction in that case are included in the article or TV spot.
Included with the motion was a binder with hundreds of pages of copies of various news articles, transcripts and even Tweets about Lovette. Durham County Public Defender Lawrence Campbell said in an affidavit that he read and watched the coverage about Lovette from the time he was charged with killing Carson and Mahato in 2008 to the present time.
"The intense news coverage that I have read, watched and heard in the news media serving Durham County has been overwhelmingly negative concerning Mr. Lovette and overwhelmingly sympathetic about Eve Carson and the alleged victim in the instant Durham murder case, Abhijit Mahato, who was a graduate student at Duke University at the time of his death," Campbell wrote in the affidavit.
He said it's natural for people to be sympathetic to Carson and hostile to Lovette, but those people might be called as jurors in the Mahato case and would find it difficult to presume Lovette was innocent in that case.
Harris C. Johnson, who was employed at UNC Hospitals in the Department of Psychiatry for 34 years and is active in Durham politics, said he reads newspapers and watches the local news. The deaths of Carson and Mahato received more media coverage than other murder cases in Durham, he said in an affidavit.
"I know of two African-American female students, an undergraduate and a graduate student, who were killed in Durham about the same time as the Orange and Durham cases," he wrote. "The cases of these two students did not receive the same amount of media coverage notwithstanding the similarity of the victims and offenses as found in the Orange and Durham cases of Laurence Lovette."
After the hearing, attorney Karen Bethea-Shields said she did not know where she would like to have the case heard, and that she just wanted to make sure Lovette received a fair trial.
Originally, Lovette and Stephen Lavance Oates were both charged in the death of Mahato, 29, but in February the state dismissed the murder charge against Oates.
Bethea-Shields filed a motion requiring the state to reveal any concessions or deals it may have made with Oates.
During a short hearing Friday, Superior Court Judge James Hardin, Bethea-Shields and Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried tried to work out a schedule for pre-trial motions and the trial. But after the hearing, they spoke with Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, and he assigned Hardin to be the trial judge for the case so they met back in the courtroom later to further discuss upcoming dates for hearings.
They agreed to hear motions during the week of Oct. 7, most likely on the Friday of that week.
Bethea-Shields said she hopes the trial can be started and completed before the end of the year. Dornfried suggested that his schedule probably won't allow him to try the case before December.