Posted on February 4, 2010

Suspect in Death of UNC Student Seeks to Bar Death Penalty

News & Observer (Raleigh), February 4, 2010

Defense attorneys for Demario Atwater, one of two suspects accused of murdering UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, have asked a federal judge to dismiss federal kidnapping and carjacking charges against the 23-year-old Durham man.

The lawyers also have asked the judge to rule out the possibility of the death penalty in the case, saying the prosecution’s pursuit of the federal charges and capital punishment is unconstitutional and based on racial bias.

Atwater, who is black, is accused in state court of first-degree murder, kidnapping and other offenses in connection with the March 2008 fatal shooting of Carson, a white student leader widely admired on campus.

“[B]oth statistics and comparison with other similarly situated defendants reveal that the overriding reason that Mr. Atwater was indicted in federal court was that he was a young, black male accused of killing a young, white female,” the defense team wrote in one of the documents.

Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., a 19-year-old from Durham, also is accused of murder in the case. He is not charged in federal court, nor are prosecutors seeking the death penalty against him. At the time of the shooting, Lovette was 17, deemed too young by the U.S. Supreme Court for prosecutors to seek his execution.

In the 24-county federal court district where Atwater is charged, there were 1,098 murders committed from 1998 to 2007 in which a firearm was used, according to documents filed in federal court this week. Atwater’s case is only the second case in which death was a possible penalty brought in the federal district that includes Orange and Durham counties, the defense lawyers said.


In addition to seeking dismissal of the charges, defense lawyers also have asked for a judge to throw out any statements Atwater made to police during their investigation, saying he was “coerced” and under duress.

They also are seeking any videotape from the Chapel Hill police interview and booking rooms. And, they want any videotape the Durham patrol cars that transported Atwater and Shanita Love, a woman with whom the suspect once lived who “is likely to be a critical witness against the defendant,” according to defense documents.