Guilty Plea in UNC Student Body President Killing - Defendant Avoids Death Penalty
Eve Carson, 22, of Athens, Ga., was found shot to death in the middle of a Chapel Hill street in March 2008. She had been shot five times, including once in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun.
"While we deplore the evil and negligence that led to Eve's death, we agree with the U.S. Attorney's decision to accept the plea agreement," Carson's parents said in a statement Monday released by prosecutors. "We are very grateful for the dedication and hard work that have gone into the investigation and prosecution of this crime."
Atwater is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23, and he still faces charges in state court along with Laurence Lovette, who was only 17 at the time of the killing and is ineligible for the death penalty.
Authorities believe Atwater and Lovette kidnapped Carson from outside her Chapel Hill home just before 4 a.m., stole her sport utility vehicle and took her to several ATMs, eventually withdrawing $1,400.
Carson's killing shocked the university community in Chapel Hill, outraged state lawmakers and highlighted problems within North Carolina's probation and parole system.
A state investigation found that Atwater was never placed under intensive probation — which can include mandatory curfews, weekly contact and warrantless searches — despite two court orders to do so, the first dating to a February 2005 conviction on a pair of felony charges. When Atwater later told officials he was living in Durham, Wake County probation officers didn't transfer his case there for more than two years.
Lovette pleaded guilty to misdemeanor larceny and breaking and entering just two months before Carson's death and received a two-year suspended sentence. He was then assigned to a Durham probation officer who said she was handling more than 120 cases even through she had yet to complete a basic training course. In the six weeks that followed, authorities in Durham arrested Lovette several times and charged him with nine crimes, including burglary, car theft, breaking and entering, and resisting arrest.
He was released after each arrest.
U.S. attorney Anna Mills Wagoner said Monday that the plea avoids the uncertainty and pain of a drawn-out trial and endless appeals.
"A life sentence in the federal criminal justice system means just that: life without the possibility of parole or early release," Wagoner said in a statement.