Attorneys battle over where to hold Eve Carson trial

January 27, 2010 2:56:39 PM PST
If defense attorneys for accused murderer Demario Atwater have it their way, their client will be tried on federal carjacking and weapons charges in another state.

Wednesday, attorneys in the federal Eve Carson murder case made arguments for and against a change of venue. Both sides have been trading barbs in federal motions filed within the past week.

Atwater is one of two suspects charged in the shooting death of Eve Carson in March 2008. Lawrence Lovette, Jr. and Demario Atwater both face state charges. But, only Atwater will face a federal judge and the possibility of the death penalty, if convicted.

Lovette’s age at the time of the crime - he was 17- made him ineligible for capital punishment. The two are accused of kidnapping, robbing and killing Carson, shooting her multiple times before leaving her lifeless body in an upscale Chapel Hill neighborhood.

A manhunt for the alleged assailants immediately after the murder set off a firestorm of media coverage. The high level publicity, Atwater’s attorneys contend, has ruined his chance of a fair trial. They believe their claim is supported by a phone survey of more than 1,400 North Carolinians nearly a year after the murder.

Click here to read all the documents related to the change of venue motion (.pdf)

Respondents were asked several questions, including what they’d heard or read about Demario Atwater and whether they thought his was guilty or innocent. The survey found more than half of those surveyed believe Atwater killed Carson and if convicted, he should get the death penalty.

“Mr. Atwater has already been tried, convicted and sentenced to die in the North Carolina court of public opinion,” defense attorneys wrote in a motion requesting a change of venue.

But, federal prosecutors have pointed out what they consider flaws in the questionnaire, from the wording of survey questions to the age and gender of respondents who were specifically targeted. They suggest the defense survey actually supports there are thousands of eligible jurors in North Carolina who haven't formed an opinion about the case.

“What the data reflects is a high degree of awareness of the case and a great deal of sympathy for the victim,” said federal prosecutors in their official court response.

Atwater's attorneys have also asked a federal judge to remove the death penalty from his case. That issue is was not heard at Wednesday's hearing in Winston-Salem.

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