Criminal fight: Just putting them away is not enough to protect safety of community
With his plea agreement this week, Demario Atwater of Durham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges in the death of Eve Carson and will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole.
He is the man who pulled the trigger after holding a sawed-off shotgun to the University of North Carolina student body president's temple, ending the 22-year-old's life.
For some, the sentence is the end of an ordeal that began when Ms. Carson was kidnapped, forced to withdraw money from an ATM and was then executed.
But for the Carson family, the nightmare will go on forever as they mourn the loss of someone with so much love and so much promise.
For the rest of us, the Atwater case is sobering.
The thugs involved in this heinous crime were 21 and 17 years old, with Atwater being the eldest. And 17-year-old Laurence Lovette is implicated in another murder -- this one involving a student at Duke.
And this did not happen in a remote area of the city of Chapel Hill, either. It was not two drug dealers shooting it out or a criminal stopped in the act of robbery or rape. This was a young girl, innocent and with so much promise, who was attacked and tortured.
And that leads to the next question: Why not the death penalty?
Perhaps it is what the family wanted. Perhaps prosecutors just wanted to get this predator off the streets. But in the end, we need to think about what kind of message should be sent to any other potential attacker, anyone else who thinks an easy way to make a buck is to force his way into a victim's car.
There are some bleeding hearts who will say that Atwater and Lovette did not have the advantages that others did and that they turned to crime because they had no other choice.
There are more and more young men whose choice of career paths begins when they start their criminal records at the age of 10 or 11, sometimes even younger.
They can drop out of school at 16 -- after having caused all sorts of trouble there. They are often from absentee parent households where no one cares to look to see what they are doing with their time, so they choose to commit crimes, to use drugs and to prey on innocent victims.
All those factors result in a man in his 20s who does not see value in human life, or really believe that there will be consequences for his actions.
That is how a 21-year-old can find the stomach to shoot a 22-year-old girl in the head for her ATM card.
There is not much hope for Atwater. After all, he has already committed the unforgivable sin. And perhaps there should not be.
But getting him off the streets is not enough. We have to be aggressive about the young criminals just starting their careers. We have to be strict beyond strict with offenders and invest more money in incarceration and rehabilitation programs.
We cannot bring Eve Carson back. But if we can stop one life of crime before it gets revved up -- perhaps, she will not have died in vain.
Published in Editorials on May 26, 2010 11:03 AM