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Duke student died of gunshot wound to head

/ Source: The Associated Press

A teenager accused of killing two college students was held without bond Friday as evidence emerged that one victim was shot in the forehead as a pillow was held tightly against his face.

An autopsy report released Friday detailed how Duke University doctoral student Abhijit Mahato, 29, died. Mahato, originally from India, was found dead Jan. 18 inside his apartment a few blocks south of the campus.

One of the two defendants in his death, Laurence Lovette, 17, was ordered held without bond on a first-degree murder charge. Later, he made an initial appearance on the same charge in the death of University of North Carolina student body president Eve Carson.

Carson, 22, was found March 5 on a Chapel Hill street about a mile from campus. The Athens, Ga., native had been shot several times, including once in her right temple. Her autopsy results have not been released.

Two others charged in cases
Authorities have also charged Demario Atwater, 21, in Carson's death and Stephen Oates, 19, in Mahato's killing.

Oates was arrested a few days after Mahato's death, but detectives didn't connect Lovette to the case until police in Chapel Hill began investigating Carson's slaying.

Authorities have not said who pulled the trigger in either case. In both, robbery appears to be the primary motive.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit with his wrists and ankles shackled, Lovette smiled widely as he was escorted into a police cruiser to be taken back to jail in Durham after his afternoon court appearance in Hillsborough.

The public defender's offices in both Orange and Durham counties did not return calls Friday seeking comment.

Numerous other crimes alleged
Lovette was already facing trial on numerous other charges before his Thursday arrest on the murder charges.

Court records show that, in the six weeks between Mahato and Carson's deaths, police arrested and charged him with felonies ranging from burglary to car theft to resisting arrest.

Assistant Durham County prosecutor Tracey Cline said detectives linked Lovette to Mahato through phone records, a vehicle and items stolen from Mahato's apartment.

Lovette was arrested in the Carson case after police released two surveillance photos they said show him using Carson's ATM card while driving what appears to be her Toyota Highlander.

Judge 'sending an SOS' to lawmakers
At Lovette's first court appearance on Friday, Durham County District Court Judge Craig Brown pleaded with state lawmakers to meet immediately in a special session to address gang violence.

"I'm sending an SOS to Raleigh. I expect them to hear it," Brown said from the bench.

The comment came as a surprise both to police, who said they have no specific information placing either Atwater or Lovette in a gang, and to lawmakers who are working to pass pending anti-gang legislation.

Bill Holmes, a spokesman for Speaker Joe Hackney, said a House committee is also already meeting on other gang-related proposals.

Words from bench may have tainted case
Before demanding the action on gangs, Brown — a graduate of both North Carolina and Duke — promised Lovette he will get a fair trial. But legal observers said his words may have tainted the case against Lovette before it even starts.

"It's just not fair to this defendant," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "I'm not expressing any special sympathy for this defendant. But no defendant should have their case mixed up in political sentiments."

But Norm Early, former district attorney in Denver and a member of the board of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, said that memories fade.

"While it's perceived to be extremely prejudicial at this point ... a lot of people won't even remember the statements were ever made," he said.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell said he supports the judge's call for more help from the state to fight gangs, citing a recent city study that found roughly 1,000 people in the city of about 190,000 people have a gang affiliation.