RALEIGH, NC - One of the men accused in the killing of a student body president at University of North Carolina's flagship campus pleaded guilty to federal crimes Monday, avoiding a death penalty case prosecutors were pursuing.
Demario Atwater pleaded guilty to several charges, including carjacking resulting in death and kidnapping. Prosecutors agreed to drop their plan to pursue the death penalty and Atwater agreed that he will face a life sentence.
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.
Federal executions are rare. Only three people, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, have been put to death by the federal government since it resumed executions in 2001 after a 38-year hiatus. Executions are even more rare in Orange County, which hasn't returned a death sentence in about 70 years.