Both sides rest in Lovette murder trial

Both the state and the defense rested their cases Friday in the murder trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette, who is charged with robbing and killing Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato in January 2008.

Following a day of testimony for the state, Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried announced prosecutors would present no further evidence.

With the jury outside the courtroom, Lovette’s attorney, Karen Bethea-Shields, immediately made a motion to dismiss the charges of armed robbery and first-degree murder based on lack of evidence.

Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin denied the motion.

Hardin then asked Lovette to make sure it was his firm decision not to present evidence in his own defense and not to testify on his own behalf.

“That’s correct, sir,” Lovette answered.

Hardin called the jurors back in and told them to return Monday for closing arguments.

Prosecutors spent Friday trying to bolster the testimony of star witness Shanita Love. She testified earlier that she heard Lovette talking about robbing and killing Mahato on Anderson Street on Jan. 18, 2008, three months before he robbed and killed UNC-Chapel Hill’s student body president, Eve Carson, in what Love called a “copycat” crime on March 5, 2008.

In both cases, prosecutors say Lovette slipped up on his victims, drove them to ATM machines where he withdrew money from their bank accounts, and then shot and killed them.

According to Love, Lovette and Demario Atwater killed Carson, but it was Atwater’s younger brother, Philip Mabrey, who was with Lovette when Lovette shot and killed Mahato.

On Friday, Dornfried said prosecutors are considering whether to charge Mabrey, who was 14 or 15 at the time. Mabrey testified during the trial that he told an investigator he was with Lovette on the night Mahato was killed but that he was outside in the parking lot of the Anderson Apartments when he heard a gunshot. However, during his testimony, he repeatedly said he lied to the investigator because the investigator lied to him.

Dornfried said prosecutors will evaluate Love’s testimony about Mabrey’s involvement, but he pointed out that Love heard the information about Mabrey’s involvement from Lovette.

“That would require Lovette’s cooperation,” Dornfried said. “I don’t see that happening.”

Case differences

In the Carson case, prosecutors relied on Love’s testimony to tell what happened, but they also had physical evidence, including Carson’s DNA found inside Lovette’s vehicle and photographs of Lovette and Atwater at ATM machines withdrawing money from Carson’s bank account.

In the Mahato case, investigators were unable to discover any eyewitness or forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, photographs, hair or DNA, that linked Lovette to Mahato’s death.

Love testified she heard Lovette talking about various crimes he committed around the time of Mahato’s slaying, including that he tried to rob a Hispanic man at the Colonial Apartments and shot the man in the leg as the man tried to run away. She also said she heard Lovette talking about breaking into a house and stealing a Mercedes.

Prosecutors called various investigators and police officers who testified that those crimes did occur around the time Mahato was killed. But they were unable to produce any evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA from the stolen Mercedes or from the shooting of the Hispanic man that linked Lovette to those crimes.

The stolen Mercedes was an important part of the state’s case because security cameras at the bank where money was withdrawn from Mahato’s account showed the top and front of a Mercedes. Because of the angle of the cameras, the people inside the Mercedes were not visible.

The shooting of the Hispanic man was important because a 9 mm shell casing from that crime scene matched a 9 mm shell casing found at the Mahato crime scene. A firearms expert testified that both shell casings came from the same gun, but investigators never found that gun.

Love also testified she saw Lovette and Mabrey splitting up the spoils, which included an iPod and a camcorder, from the Mahato homicide at the Mabrey home among other members of the Mabrey family.

Prior testimony

During Friday’s testimony, Celisa Lehew, the lead investigator in the Carson murder for the Chapel Hill Police Department, testified about interviewing Love.

Prosecutors are hoping that jurors will believe what Love said about the Mahato case because the information she provided in the Carson case proved accurate.

After initially denying she knew anything about the Mahato case, Love eventually told Lehew that Durham police had arrested the wrong man in the Mahato case.

Durham police had charged a man named Stephen Oates with killing Mahato. Love told Lehew it was Lovette and Mabrey who killed Mahato and that Lovette laughed when he saw a television news report saying police had charged Oates.

Police dismissed the murder charge against Oates last year.