DURHAM — More than six years after Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato was found shot to death in his Durham apartment, Laurence Lovette is scheduled to go on trial Monday for allegedly robbing and killing the 29-year-old student.
The trial will take place in the Durham County Courthouse and will begin with jury selection, which could last a week or more.
During a pretrial hearing Wednesday morning, Lovette, 23, wearing a red jail jumpsuit, sat with his attorneys as they discussed jury selection with Superior Court Judge James Hardin and prosecutors.
They agreed that all potential jurors will be asked to fill out a questionnaire asking them if they had heard anything about the case. If the answer is yes, they will answer the next question about how closely they followed the case.
Another question asks, “Are you familiar with events that occurred in Durham County around 2007 and 2008 that are commonly referred to as the “Mahato Murder” or the “Duke Student Murder?”
After answering a few more questions, the jurors will be asked if they’ve formed a strong opinion about the case.
Those are questions attorneys normally ask potential jurors during jury selection, but having them answer them in a written questionnaire before they are called into the jury box for questioning helps speed up the process.
If a juror does indicate he or she has a strong opinion, the attorneys will have the opportunity to question the person further about his or her knowledge and opinion of the case while other potential jurors are out of the room, so they won’t be influenced by something the juror might say.
The system of using a written questionnaire appeared to work efficiently and speed up jury selection when Crystal Mangum was on trial last year for the murder of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, which also was a high-profile trial with a lot of pretrial publicity.
Laurence Lovette is a name that many people who live in the Triangle know. In December 2011, he and Demario Atwater were convicted of kidnapping, shooting and killing UNC’s student body president, Eve Carson, in March 2008.
During the investigation of Carson’s murder in Chapel Hill, Durham police investigators learned of evidence that allegedly linked Lovette to Mahato’s murder.
Mahato was found dead in his bedroom Jan. 18, 2008, by friends who were concerned that he hadn’t responded to phone calls or text messages.
An autopsy revealed he had been shot between the eyes by a gun wrapped in a pillow.
Durham police charged Lovette and another man in his death, but the district attorney’s office dropped the charges against the other man due to a lack of evidence.
Mahato was studying for an engineering doctorate with a focus on computational mechanics at Duke University when he was killed. He was originally from Tatanagar, India.
Lovette is serving a life sentence for the murder of Carson. He is not eligible for the death penalty because he was under the age of 17 when he killed Carson and allegedly killed Mahato.