Demario James Atwater and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., two local men, were charged with her murder.
On May 24, 2010, Atwater pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a plea bargain agreement that will have him serve two sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In his December 2011 trial, Lovette pleaded not guilty but was found guilty and, like Atwater, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a sentence that was re-affirmed in a 2013 retrial. The event received national exposure when it was mentioned by a contestant on the American Idol reality show. A park and a scholarship have been created in Carson's honor.
Carson was born in Athens, Georgia on November 19, 1985, where she attended Clarke Central High School. She was elected president of the high school's student body and was valedictorian. Carson began her college career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her academic achievements earned her membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, and she was a recipient of the Morehead-Cain Scholarship.
At UNC, she majored in political science and biology, in the pre-medicine career path. Outside of class, Carson participated in and led numerous organizations and service projects. She was selected to be a North Carolina Fellow, a four-year leadership development program, and posthumously received the Chancellor's award for most outstanding woman in the senior class and the General Alumni Association's Distinguished Young Alumnus award.
Carson was inaugurated as president of UNC's student body in April 2007, and her term was due to expire in April 2008. She ran for student body president out of a desire to give to the university and empower UNC students to take an active role in their community. In this role, Carson served as a member of the university's board of trustees and many other committees, but viewed one of her most important roles as representing all UNC students. Carson was especially vocal about providing students more predictable increases in school tuition and fees, one of her major platform points when running for student body president. Her platform also included ideas to provide additional opportunities open to all students, most notably the establishment of a prestigious scholarship for students in their junior who showed outstanding commitment and service to the university, and the creation of an endowment to fund a big-name speaker series that would be free for all students.
Carson was also active as co-president of the Honors Program Student Executive Board and as a member of the Committee on Scholarships, Awards and Student Aide, the Academic Advising Program, the Chancellor Search Committee, the Chancellor’s Committee for University Teaching Awards, co-chairwoman of UNC's chapter of Nourish International, and an assistant coach for Girls on the Run.
Through her Morehead-Cain Scholarship, Carson continued her passion for service-learning work. Traveling to Ecuador in the summer of 2005, Carson volunteered in the rural countryside as a medical assistant, worked on a coffee farm, and taught computer and technology skills to youth and adults in an indigenous Siona community in the Amazon rain forest.
In 2006, Carson studied abroad with UNC's Spring Semester in Havana, Cuba and spent the summer in Egypt working with a U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit. She continued exploring service learning in Chapel Hill as a reflections leader for the A.P.P.L.E.S. (Assisting People in Planning Learning Experiences in Service) Program at the university. Carson also spent the summer before matriculation to the university participating in a National Outdoor Leadership School program in Wyoming.
Carson's body was found at the intersection of Hillcrest Circle and Hillcrest Drive in Chapel Hill at approximately 5 a.m. on March 5, 2008.
Police could not immediately identify the body, but at 9 a.m. on March 6, 2008, police investigators and the office of the medical examiner identified it as that of Carson. The Chapel Hill police chief said that Carson's death appeared to be a random act. Police recovered her car more than a mile away from her body after receiving a tip from a local witness. Police also released images from a security video of a person using Carson's ATM card.
Carson had been shot several times, including a fatal shotgun blast to the head. According to a confidential informant, later revealed as prosecution witness Jayson McNeil, both Atwater and Lovette had shot her. The medical examiner found no physical evidence that Carson had been sexually assaulted.
On March 6, 2008, at 3 p.m., UNC's Chancellor James Moeser spoke to the student body on the central quad, Polk Place, and at 7 p.m. students organized a candlelight vigil in the Pit, a sunken plaza near the student union building. The service included singing by three student a cappella groups and a slideshow of photos of Carson. Hundreds of people attended Carson's funeral in Athens on March 9, including Moeser, who said that Carson was "truly a gift to Chapel Hill."
In honor of Carson, the North Carolina men's and women's basketball teams wore a black badge on their jersey that read "EVE" for the remainder of their seasons.
On March 8, 2008, before the start of the Carolina–Duke men's basketball game, there was a moment of silence in Carson's honor.
Carson's dual-major bachelor's degree was posthumously awarded—for the first time in the University's history—to her surviving family (parents and brother) at the May 2008 UNC graduation ceremony she would have attended had she lived. She was posthumously awarded the General Alumni Association of UNC's 2009 Distinguished Young Alumni Award.
Due to the high-profile nature of the case, records such as the autopsy report and search warrants were sealed from public view in the months after the murder.
On June 27, 2008, some information was released. Details in six warrants confirm that $1,400 was withdrawn from ATMs using Carson's card over a two-day period after the shooting. They also reveal that Atwater admitted to being the suspect attempting to use the ATM card in a security video taken in a local convenience store and that Lovette was indeed the person pictured in original ATM surveillance photograph. The autopsy report was released on June 30, 2008.
On March 12, 2008, first-degree murder charges were filed against Demario James Atwater, who was 21 years old at the time.
His accomplice, Laurence Alvin Lovette, Jr., who was 17 years old at the time, was arrested and similarly charged the following day. On July 7, 2008, additional charges of first-degree kidnapping and armed robbery were raised against the two murder suspects, along with felonious larceny and felonious stolen goods. Atwater was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of weapon of mass destruction (based on the specifications of the shotgun used in the murder).
In July 2008, federal investigators charged Atwater with federal carjacking charges which carry a death penalty sentence if committed during a homicide. As a result of the Roper v. Simmons ruling, Lovette could not face the death penalty as he was under 18 at the time of the crimes.
On April 19, 2010, Atwater pleaded guilty to federal charges of carjacking, kidnapping, and weapons possession. Judge James A. Beaty of the United States District Court in Winston-Salem sentenced him to life in prison plus 30 years on September 23, 2010. Atwater was ordered to undergo substance abuse treatment and pay restitution of $212,947.10 should he ever be released, which Judge Beaty noted was "highly unlikely."
At the sentencing hearing, Atwater turned to Carson's parents and said, "I'm sorry for everything that's happened ... No matter what the court did today, it would be far from anything I should receive." Carson's parents declined to speak during the hearing.
On May 24, 2010, Atwater pleaded guilty to state charges of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm by a felon. In exchange for his plea, state prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty. Judge Allen Baddour of Superior Court in Hillsborough subsequently sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder charge, and also imposed a concurrent sentence of 23 to 29 years for the additional charges.
Prosecutors had also charged Lovette with the January 2008 murder of 29-year-old Duke University engineering student Abhijit Mahato but he was found not guilty in July 2014.
Atwater is currently serving his life sentence at the United States Penitentiary, McCreary, a high-security federal prison in Kentucky.
After pleading not guilty to state charges of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree armed robbery, felonious larceny, and felonious possession of stolen goods, Lovette remained in custody awaiting his trial, which began on December 6, 2011. Lovette declined to testify during the trial. On December 20, 2011, a jury found Lovette guilty on all charges. After the verdict, Judge Allen Baddour, the same judge who sentenced Atwater in 2010, stated, "The life that Ms. Carson led was too short, but I know that she continues to be an inspiration, not only for her family, but for thousands in this community and across this country."
Baddour subsequently sentenced Lovette to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Neither Lovette nor Carson's parents spoke before the sentence was handed down. On February 5, 2013, the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated Lovette's life sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing. The decision relied on Miller v. Alabama, where the Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for defendants under 18 at the time of a crime is cruel and unusual punishment. On June 3, a re-sentencing hearing was held. After Baddour considered mitigating circumstances, Lovette was again sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Lovette is currently serving his life sentence at Albemarle Correctional Institution, a medium-security state prison in Stanly County, North Carolina.
To honor her life, the University of North Carolina established the Eve Carson Scholarship (officially the Eve Marie Carson Memorial Junior-Year Merit Scholarship) in order to achieve Carson's goal of "reward[ing] students who had grown significantly in the areas of academics, social justice and leadership since their college matriculation."
The scholarship is entirely student-run and is awarded annually to two juniors at the university and includes a $5,000 stipend for a summer experience and half-cost of attendance for the students' senior year. The scholarship is intended to allow students to further give back to UNC by alleviating the financial burden of paying for college, upholding the scholarship's tag line of "Students Celebrating Students". The Morehead-Cain Scholarship also endowed a four-year, full merit scholarship in Carson's honor named the Eve Marie Carson Carolina Way Scholarship. The scholarship is expected to help attract qualified out-of-state students to the university and will provide recipients with additional programming and support during their undergraduate career.
The case was brought to national attention again in 2009 after American Idol finalist Anoop Desai, who was a friend of Carson's, talked about the incident on the show and how it motivated him to audition. On the second anniversary of her death, UNC dedicated the Eve Marie Carson Garden in honor of her and all students, past and future, who die before graduation. The garden is located near the Campus YMCA, an organization in which Carson was active, and contains a blue stone seat overlooking the campus's main quad. One feature of the garden is a wall of Georgia marble inscribed with her words: "Learn from every single being, experience, and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others."
The Pi Beta Phi and Phi Delta Theta chapters of UNC now host the annual Eve Carson Memorial 5K for Education in her honor. The race was established in 2008 and continues to grow each year. The money raised at the 5K benefits the Eve Carson Scholarship Fund, the Pi Beta Phi Literacy Fund, and CEO 4 Teens. The 2014 race, held on October 25, had over 1,600 registrants and raised over $116,000.
Finally, a distinguished lecture series created as part of Carson's student body president platform was renamed in her honor in the fall of 2010 by the university's Executive Branch of Student Government. The series aimed to bring big-name speakers to campus in order to challenge students and spark discussion. Speakers have included Elizabeth Edwards, Greg Mortenson, Fatou Bensouda, Mika Brzezinski, and most recently, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
In March 2012, controversy arose when an Indian consulting firm distributed advertising posters containing a copyrighted photo of Carson.