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Suspects in UNC Death Had Criminal Past

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MIKE BAKER | March 13, 2008 10:46 PM EST | AP

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DURHAM, N.C. — A teenager's arrest Thursday ended a violent crime spree, authorities said, that included the slaying of a graduate student at Duke University and the University of North Carolina's student body president.

Police tracked Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. to a Durham home, where he surrendered before dawn. The 17-year-old is charged with first-degree murder in the college students' deaths.

Court records show that Lovette, while on probation, had been arrested several times and charged with felonies ranging from burglary to car theft during the months between the two slayings. He was released on bond in those cases and court hearings were pending.

A manhunt started after Eve Carson, 22, a popular student leader at UNC, was found shot death last week on a street about a mile from the campus in nearby Chapel Hill.

Tips generated by several ATM and convenience store surveillance photos led to charges against Lovette, who police said appeared to be driving Carson's Toyota Highlander, and a second suspect in the back seat.

Police have not said whether they think Lovette or the second man charged in her death, 21-year-old Demario James Atwater, pulled the trigger.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said while investigators worked on Carson's death, Lovette became a suspect in the death of Abhijit Mahato, 29, who was found shot to death in January inside his apartment a few block south of Duke's campus. His wallet, cell phone and iPod had been taken.

Mahato, originally of Tatangar, India, was a doctoral student at Duke in computational mechanics.

Lopez said community tips led detectives to witnesses that tied Lovette to the case, although Lopez wouldn't discuss the specific evidence.

Earlier, police charged Stephen Lavance Oates, 19, of Durham, with murder in Mahato's death. Oates is being held without bond on charges that also include robbery of 18 people, including Mahato.

Lopez said he doesn't foresee any more arrests in either case.

Even though Lovette was on probation misdemeanor larceny and breaking and entering, he was allowed to be released on bond.

Atwater was also on probation at the time of Carson's death. His criminal record includes convictions for larceny, drug possession, breaking and entering and felony possession of a firearm.

Keith Acree, a spokesman for the state Department of Correction, said officials were in the process of revoking Atwater's probation. He was not aware of such an effort for Lovette, who was place on probation in January. Acree said Robert Lee Guy, the state's top probation and parole official, has ordered an investigation.

"He's asking some of his people to look into the overall supervision of both of the cases," Acree said. "He wants to know everything he can about how the cases were supervised."

Tracey Cline, an assistant district attorney in Durham, declined to comment Thursday when asked about Lovette and Atwater's criminal history, including if either had a juvenile record. In North Carolina, a person's criminal history prior to age 16 is typically sealed.

Authorities are holding Lovette in Durham, where he is scheduled to make his first appearance in Mahato's slaying Friday morning. He declined a request for an interview and has not yet been assigned a public defender.

Atwater is at Raleigh's Central Prison following his initial court appearance Wednesday in the Carson case. His attorney did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

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Associated Press writer Erin Gartner and Allen G. Breed contributed to this report from Raleigh.