Atwater's arrest shows justice system flaws

March 15, 2008 9:30:05 PM PDT
The vast majority of us first learned who Demario Atwater is this week, when he was charged with first degree murder in the killing of Eve Carson - but the Department of Correction has known about him for years.

The problem is, Atwater often slipped through their cracks and had the system worked, he could've been behind bars.

The man who oversees North Carolina's probation system, Robert Lee Guy, is admitting mistakes in Atwater's case, and he's ordered a thorough internal investigation into what went wrong.

"I can promise you," Guy said in an interview Friday with Eyewitness News. "Myself and my entire chain of command has not slept very well."

A review of court documents shows Atwater was convicted of breaking and entering and larceny in Wake County in 2005. He was given intensive probation, meaning he should have been checked on weekly by a probation officer. It appears that didn't happen.

"The quality supervision of the intensive program is not there," Guy said.

Later, Atwater was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon in Granville County in June 2007. That should have been caught immediately as a red flag and violation of probation for the 2005 Wake County crime. It wasn't. "He did have a conviction from Granville County," Guy said. "That is a violation of his probation, his original probation, and it was not reported timely in Wake County court, and that's a big question." Instead, Guy says that violation wasn't reported until November, five months after it happened.

Atwater, 21, was finally charged with probation violation in February 2008. "My agency should've taken action last summer or fall," Guy said. He also said the case should have been transferred from Wake to Durham County a long time ago. It never was.

Robert Lee Guy isn't the only one admitting mistakes. Atwater was set to appear in a Wake County courtroom on March 3rd, to finally appear on that longstanding probation violation from the Granville County conviction.

Atwater was told to go to one courtroom, but his paperwork was sent to another courtroom, so the case was continued. Atwater was let go. "That case was not heard that day, he was not given the opportunity to be advised of his rights to council," said Lorrin Freeman, Clerk of Wake County Superior Court.

But Lorrin Freeman, clerk of Wake County Superior Court, says it is likely Atwater would probably have been set free even if he had seen a judge. She said Atwater would've been given an attorney on the probation violation case, with a future court date.

"We don't have any reason to believe he would've been placed in jail on that day," Freeman said.

But had Atwater slipped through fewer gaps, he may have been in jail long before now.

Eve Carson was shot to death on March 5. Her body was found in the middle of a road in a Chapel Hill neighborhood near a mile off the UNC Chapel Hill campus.

Atwater was arrested around 5 a.m. Wednesday as he left a home in Durham that police had placed under surveillance after getting a tip he was inside. He appeared to have a wound and a bruise on his right cheek at his court appearance. Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian Curran said officers had taken him to a hospital as "part of the evidence collection" process.

He's being held at Raleigh's Central Prison for "safe keeping" according to Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian Curran.

State records indicate the second suspect in Carson's murder was also on parole. Laurence Lovette, 17, was given a suspended sentence in January for misdemeanor larceny and breaking and entering. Lovette has been charged with Carson's death and the murder of Duke University graduate student, Abhijit Mahato. Lovette is being held in at the Durham County Jail under a $3 million dollar bond.


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