Resentencing hearing ordered for convict in Carson murder

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 11:53 PM

The younger of the two men convicted of killing the University of North Carolina student body president in 2008 must get a resentencing hearing, a state court said in a ruling Tuesday that also determined the teenager got a fair trial.

The state Appeals Court ordered the hearing for Laurence Lovette, who was 17 years old when he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in the death of Eve Carson, who was shot five times and her body left on a residential Chapel Hill street in March 2008.

Since Lovette's sentencing in November 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that judges must consider mitigating circumstances before sentencing someone under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole. In response, North Carolina legislators passed a law that says the sentence is life in prison with parole if someone under the age of 18 is convicted of first-degree murder solely on the basis of the felony murder rule, the court said.

In all other cases, the court must hold a hearing to consider mitigating circumstances, such as the defendant's age, immaturity and ability to benefit from rehabilitation, the state Appeals Court said. The judge then can sentence the defendant to life with or without parole.

That scenario applies to Lovette, the court said, because he was convicted of first-degree murder not only on the basis of the felony rule but also on the basis of malice, premeditation and deliberation. A jury also found Lovette guilty of kidnapping, armed robbery, felony larceny and possession of stolen goods in the death of Carson, a native of Athens, Ga.

The North Carolina law is retroactive to include Lovette's case, the state court said.

Lovette's attorney also said the trial was flawed in four other areas, including ineffective counsel. Lovette's appeal said his trial attorney conceded his guilt to the jury without his consent, an argument that the state court said "utterly lacks merit."

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said Tuesday that a new sentencing hearing is possible within 90 days. Lovette's attorneys can appeal to the state Supreme Court, but a hearing there isn't definitive since the Appeals Court decision was unanimous.

"We knew that he was going to have to be resentenced. We've known that since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling came out," Woodall said. "I'm very happy with the Court of Appeals ruling because they found no error."

Lovette, 22, also is charged in the shooting death of a Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, who was found dead inside his apartment in January 2008. That case has not gone to trial.

Also convicted in Carson's death was Demario Atwater, 26, who's serving two life prison terms after pleading guilty to state and federal charges in the case.