An expert in criminal law predicts District Attorney Jim Woodall will charge those accused of killing Eve Carson with “just about everything you could imagine” when the Orange County grand jury meets Monday.
Woodall is also scheduled to announce Monday whether he intends to seek the death penalty for Demario Atwater, one of the two accused, though he expects that hearing to be continued to a later date. Additional charges and new information released to the public in recent days could add up to aggravating factors that would support a death sentence.
N.C. Central law professor Irving Joyner said that based on information in search warrants and an autopsy report, he anticipates Woodall will charge both Atwater and alleged accomplice Laurence Lovette with kidnapping, burglary, robbery and two separate counts of murder.
The grand jury has already indicted Atwater and Lovett on charges of first-degree murder. Joyner expects additional felony murder charges because the death resulted from the commission of an inherently dangerous felony such as robbery.
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He also said the killing appears premeditated and deliberate, which would validate the existing first-degree murder charges.
“The fact that you had two guns used to shoot her would be sufficient for jurors to conclude that they wanted to shoot her to kill her,” Joyner said. “I'm not trying to draw any conclusion as to their guilt.
“Those are the possible charges that I see based on what I've read. That's a pretty wide range of charges that they'll have to deal with,” Joyner said. “They could certainly proceed without all these charges, but I would think that they're going to stack them up and charge them with as many felonies as they could find.”
Tony Baker, professor of criminal law at Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University, disagrees.
“I would be shocked if they were to prosecute anything other than the most serious charge that they can use,” Baker said. “First-degree murder is plenty. … It's very expensive to run a trial. It's double expensive to run a capital trial.”
Baker said Woodall will face ample public pressure to pursue the death penalty, particularly in light of Carson's prominence as student body president at UNC Chapel Hill.
“It's a passion play,” he said. “We've seen the outpouring of affection for this remarkable young woman. … We've got a situation where it would be easy to assign a white hat and a black hat.”
Joyner thinks the “multiplicity of charges” could translate into aggravating factors that a judge or jury would consider when and if Woodall decides to pursue the death penalty for Atwater.
Lovette, 17, was not old enough at the time of the crime to face the death penalty.
“It's highly likely that this would be a capital case,” Joyner said.
The possibilities that Lovette and Atwater killed Carson during the commission of another felony and for financial gain and that the crime was especially heinous and atrocious could all serve as aggravating factors, Joyner said.
“I think that would be sufficient to inflame jurors,” he said.
Orange County has not sent anyone to death row since 1970, and no offender from Orange County has been executed since 1948.
“They've not come back with a death penalty verdict for 30 years,” Joyner said. “But if they do, this might be the case that would push 'em that way.”
Joyner said the multiple felonies and weapons, combined with Carson's stature on campus might be enough to lift Orange County's de facto moratorium on executions.
“The young lady herself would be a sympathetic person in the eyes of most jurors,” he said.