Suspect in Duke Murder Case Arrested

I just received an email from Jay about the latest development in the murder of Abhijit Mahato, a DBD PhD student at Duke University:

Durham police say a late-night chase into Wake County on Tuesday led to the arrest of four people responsible for at least one recent armed robbery near the Duke University campus, one of whom is now charged with murder in connection with a previous robbery.
The arrests of William Dozia Smith, 20, Stephen Lavance Oates Jr., 19, and two juveniles, both 14, may bring investigators a step closer to solving some of the more than 70 robberies that have been committed since Jan. 1. The spate of robberies — many preying on Hispanics and often involving handguns — prompted Durham CrimeStoppers on Wednesday to increase its reward offer to $5,000 for information leading to arrests.
Smith, Oates and the two juveniles were charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and felony fleeing to elude. They are accused of robbing a couple at gunpoint at an apartment on Lambeth Circle late Sunday and may be suspects in other, similar armed robberies including a second incident just hours prior at the Poplar West Apartments, also near the Duke campus.
Oates was later charged with murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the Friday slaying of Abhijit Mahato at his apartment at 1600 Anderson Street, Apt. C-2, police said in a news release tonight. And he was also charged with robbery and simple assault related to a Nov. 19 armed robbery at the Bennett Pointe Grill on Hillsborough Road. [News&Observer]

After reading over 300 comments on the original thread about this tragedy, I know that many of you were especially moved by this story; we’ll do our best to keep you informed.

For those of you near Duke, a funeral service will be held this Sunday morning, at 10:30 a.m., by The Hindu Society of North Carolina. ABD, DBD, bespectacled or not, I think the one thing we can all agree to do is to keep Abhijit and his family in our thoughts and prayers.

87 thoughts on “Suspect in Duke Murder Case Arrested

  1. i’m opposed to CP for epistemological reasons. you can’t know everything with certainty and if you make a mistake you can’t correct it. this puts an annoying nuance in my otherwise consistent pro-death (abortion, assisted suicide, war) stand.

    Manju – you’re hilariously consistent. that argument is different from the one of ‘we’d be savages if we kill criminals’ one, which is opposed to the death penalty altogether, though.

  2. I’m opposed to CP for epistemological reasons.

    Then you should be opposed any kind of imprisonment for the same reason, once you’ve say, locked someone in jail for 22 years wrongly, you can’t give him that time back. sure it’s not as drastic a level of irreversibility, but a life altering one nonetheless.

  3. Someone like Ted Bundy. There is no value to keeping him alive. OK, so I am that 100% serious when I say fry the 14 yr olds. It was more of a sentiment than a serious call to kill those bastards. BTW, I am also for prosecuting those prosecutors who have stonewalled inquiries to fix a bad verdict and it is shown that the prosecutors willfully disregarded any new evidence. THere have been a few outrageous cases in the news over the last decade.

  4. Besides, doesn’t anyone believe in good old-fashioned retribution nowadays?

    I am all for retribution but in a different sense. e.g. The killers of Abhijit to work as a slave to Abhijits family.

  5. If you are old enough to kill you are old enough to be ‘fried’. If you are old enough to use a gun, then you are old enough to be shot. No mercy from me. Fry the buggers – I say bring back the chain gangs and hard labour. Maybe shipping these chaps to Antartica will be a good idea ;)

  6. The arrests of William Dozia Smith, 20, Stephen Lavance Oates Jr., 19, and two juveniles, both 14, may bring investigators a step closer to solving some of the more than 70 robberies that have been committed since Jan. 1.

    The recent debate over a case involving a juvenile killer might have some elements in common with with this present situation, in terms of charges and sentencing:

    13 Year Old Serial Killer to Stay in Prison Craig Price was a brawny teenage football player with a baby face and winsome smile, who lived with his parents in a small ranch house in the Buttonwoods section of town. One summer night in 1987, he crept across his neighbor’s yard, broke into a little brown house and stabbed Rebecca Spencer 58 times. She was a 27-year-old mother of two. He was 13. Two years passed before Price struck again. Joan Heaton, 39, was butchered with the kitchen knives she had bought earlier that day. The bodies of her daughters, Jennifer 10, and Melissa 8, were found in pools of blood, pieces of knives broken off in their bones; Jennifer had been stabbed 62 times. … Price’s current scheduled release date is December 2020. He will be 46. link
  7. there is a big difference between sociopaths and felony-murderers. that probably should be brought to bear on how the criminal justice system treats those cases, shouldn’t it?

  8. I strongly caution against accepting Sunstein & Vermeule’s analysis carte blanche. I have a long litany of critiques, but I think a much better source for reframing the conversation is:

    The Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate (John Donohue & Justin Wolfers)

    Does the death penalty save lives? A surge of recent interest in this question has yielded a series of papers that purport to show robust and precise estimates of a substantial deterrent effect of capital punishment… We conclude that existing estimates appear to reflect a small and unrepresentative sample of the estimates that arise from alternative approaches. Sampling from the broader universe of plausible approaches suggests not just reasonable doubt about whether there is any deterrent effect of the death penalty, but profound uncertainty – even about its sign.
  9. 60 · Camille said

    I strongly caution against accepting Sunstein & Vermeule’s analysis carte blanche.

    thanks for the link. hope to check it out soon.

  10. why must law review articles be so long? i wish salon/slate/some legal theory blog would summarize it for me already :)

  11. camille, here is the critique of the critique, if you are interested. some professor who seems to have used the same dataset, but comes to conclude that -

    As usual, I do not mean to suggest that this evidence proves that executions serve as a deterrent to murder. I do mean to suggest that the attempted debunking by Donohue and Wolfers is a little misleading. In addition, these authors reach a downright preposterous conclusion when they say: “As to whether executions raise or lower the homicide rate, we remain profoundly uncertain.” The idea that the evidence is equally consistent with these two possibilities cannot be taken seriously by anyone who is interested in the truth of the matter. Uncertainty about the deterrent effect of the death penalty is certainly warranted, but there is simply no basis to suggest that executions might actually increase the murder rate. Such a claim gives their game away (i.e., they do not appear to be seeking truth so much as pushing an ideology) and, ironically, their stance could be regarded as an abuse of the evidence.

    it only goes to show that most studies under-determine what is actually happening and in fact, contradict each other. maybe in the absence of good evidence, either ethical commitments should guide policy or a moratorium until people know for sure either way. it may turn out that the deterrent effect is quite marginal anyway, which is my intuition. but you can’t run regressions on a woman’s intuition as an explanatory variable, otherwise i’d have flooded the world with publications.

  12. Port, there’s also a critique of the critique of the critique :) Regardless of the “do they increase murders?” question, I do think, in general, the statistics around the death penalty research in Law & Econ is often suspect at best.

  13. Agreed. JD and JW wrote a very eloquent (and persuasive) conclusion to their piece, though. As far as numbers go, I have no a priori reason to think that they will be more convincing than various studies on the topic.

  14. I do think, in general, the statistics around the death penalty research in Law & Econ is often suspect at best.

    is this not the case for any emotive issue.

    either ethical commitments should guide policy or a moratorium until people know for sure either way.

    agreed but whose ethics?

  15. 65 · portmanteau said

    As far as numbers go, I have no a priori reason to think that they will be more convincing than various studies on the topic.

    The abstruse, elegant, emotive, epistemological and other 5-syllable adjective characterisations of this issue become moot, and appear flimsy and contrived, once you work within the capital punishment system, as it is currently implemented in most states. This isn’t a dig at portmanteau or others (ok maybe at HMF@47: life imprisonment is rarely that, with appeals up the wazoo. and of course there’s always the chance of evidence at some point arriving that reverses the decision. — so you don’t approve of evidence-based criminal justice?? Think I’m getting the hang of HMF logic!), rather it reflects the arbitrary, nolens volens processes of jurisprudence, evidence, appeal and outcomes in the U.S. capital system.

    If this issue holds interest for mutineers I would suggest a)reading about the well defined and documented paths of judicial systems outside the U.S. (the U.K., Canada, Spain, France, Australia, Italy, South Africa have all banned capital punishment in the last three decades) which have looked at the punitive, deterrent and yes the epistemological angles exhaustively before banning the death penalty. And b) befriend the public defender’s office in your hood. The chances of a capital case coming through may be slim, but he/she may be able to connect you with nonprofits that work various angles of this issue. My introduction to the law was through the Texas Innocence Project during vigils at Huntsville back in ’02 when the chair would steam to life every weekend.

  16. I don’t. And this might sound outrageous, but I believe in cases of willfull, ending of life, the family of the deceased should have most of, if not all say in what that punishment is, but I’m open to other forms of punishment – ie, if the family wants him to stay in jail for rest of life, or only eat green M&Ms for the rest of his life, or whatever the family of the deceased decides.

    Thats Islamic Criminal Law 101. Who knew HMF was an Islamo-fascist!

  17. Truman Capote, accused of being a bit attracted to one of the killers he documented in In Cold Blood, opined that capital punishment does deter murder, but only if it is known to be THE penalty and is carried out with unambiguous conviction by the institutions set up for that purpose, in direct retribution and on the heels of the crime and with no apologies. Or words to that effect. As Rahul says, there is something about the development of the teenage brain that is not quite what the brain is a little bit later. However, an enormous amount of adult human activity is carried out, and has always been carried out, by persons in the 13-19 age bracket. The average age of soldiers in most conflicts on record has been 17-19. Marriage? Most people, or at least most brides through history, were teenagers. Religions usually put the “age of reason”, but the age of personal responsibility–that is, the ability to control those impulses–has usually been set by law at about 15. At seven a child could understand the concept of evil, but not necessarily to be responsible for resisting it. By the time a person was adult size and capable of reproducing, civilization’s very existence depends on his/her impulse control. We haven’t really had the luxury of treating brawny teenagers with the leniency of little children. They can murder, rape, rob and destroy only too efficiently.

    Should they be jailed or sent to rehab day camp? What to do? Yes, many were abused but many abused people do not commit crimes because they have people to guide them, or perhaps the mentality to concentrate on other interests than crime. They may be neurotic and act out in other ways, but the world is not their oyster to murder. However, if you take limited intellect, combine it with adolescent hormones, childhood abuse, peer pressure and a sense of jail as a right of passage, well, I think you’re past the day camp rehab stage. For a lot of hard criminals jail is not a bad life, and safer then a street corner, unless they get sent to Guantanamo. A lot of the killers will get out eventually. In the Moor murders case in England, the woman was still petitioning in 2001 35 years later. Only the efforts of the mother of one of the victims kept her in jail and fortunately she died soon after. Whether out of jail or in, most criminals spend their days paid for by the tax-payers (no one will hire them), and end them by natural causes, in a hospital bed paid for by tax-payers, including the taxes of the murder victim’s family.

  18. so you don’t approve of evidence-based criminal justice?? Think I’m getting the hang of HMF logic!),

    No, I don’t approve of poorly crafted arguments masquerading as comedy. What I was doing however, was explaining to nala the differences between life imprisonment and the death penalty, although I agree with her, that the difference is small.

  19. I do think, in general, the statistics around the death penalty research in Law & Econ is often suspect at best. is this not the case for any emotive issue.

    Yes and no, melbournedesi. I hope I don’t start an academia-based flame-war, but I think the conventions around stats analysis are more rigorous in some fields than in others by virtue of who has access to that knowledge. E.g., there aren’t a ton of lawyers with high-level stats knowledge (or policymakers, for that matter), so it’s relatively easier to muddle the facts or misrepresent information to prove an ideological point (instead of report what the data actually says) in some fields (e.g., Law & Econ) than in others. [People certainly muddle facts in other stat-based social sciences, but they do catch more professional flak via journal-article flame wars, in general].

    This is extremely relevant when it comes to policy prescriptions; for example, when the US Supreme Court re-authorized the death penalty in the 70s, it’s argued today that a weighty part of what drove their decision to overturn precedent was the heavy use of statistical data that claimed that executions save lives — a claim made by scholars in the then-new field of Law & Econ. My point is that it’s not the issue, per se, that drives suspect analysis, but often the motivations of those conducting the analysis… and that that varies, substantially, by discipline and field.

    Aside from the stats debate, there are, in my opinion, huge moral and philosophical issues which underlie the actual outcomes/functioning of both the death penalty and the criminal “justice” system in the U.S. as well. Another conversation for another day, but the hyper-growth of the prison industry is, again in my opinion, a cancerous drain on the lives and economies of poor neighborhoods (rural and urban) and states throughout this country, and the punitive model has produced quite a bit of harm and expense.

    truman show, are you trolling, or do you actually have data to back up any of the claims you make? (e.g., most killers get out) Are you arguing that teenagers are “beyond repair,” as are convicted criminals, and thus to avoid the burden on taxpayers we should simply exercise the death penalty? Please clarify.

  20. oops, Religions usually put the “age of reason”,

    should read “religions usually put the “age of reason” at the age of seven..”

  21. I do think that people in life imprisonment should earn their quality of food. You get decent food if you work hard to pay the family of your victims some sort of damages with the stuff you make in some prison work camp. If you don’t , fine, just suffer with some nutritional packets astroanauts have to eat. If you turn out to be innocent, then the state will be forced to pay you a very good backwages and damages for all the suffering you went through. I am shocked that a few states lack any mechanism to reward wrongly convicted prisoners with megadamages. In a sue-happy country, who is more deserving of damages than a wrongly convicted prisoner?

    i think penalties should be increased on prosecutors who have ignored evidence or refuse to review cases when new evidence comes up.

    But I am not interested in rehabbing people who are going to spend a life in prison as much as using some of those rehabbing resources to actually help out juveniles from going to the next stage of a troubled life. Prevention is always more cost effective.

  22. “truman show, are you trolling, or do you actually have data to back up any of the claims you make? (e.g., most killers get out) Are you arguing that teenagers are “beyond repair,” as are convicted criminals, and thus to avoid the burden on taxpayers we should simply exercise the death penalty? Please clarify.”

    Oh come on Camille. Yes, I’m a freakin’ troll. Must be since you say so. True, I don’t have chapter and verse, but some things are common knowledge. The whole victims’ rights movement was started by such occurrences as I described and that movement has a pretty solid base of information. Evebody has read where somebody has gotten out of jail after killing a spouse, for example, after a couple of years. I know one case personally that happened in Belize because I met the killer’s son (she was his mom), I recalled reading of a similar case in the U.S. Perhaps “most” killers don’t get out, but most get a chance to die a natural death denied to their victims. The death penalty, who knows, but it makes sense some times. What I’m saying is, we’re all screwed when crime occurs and I sure as hell know that cold blooded killers are rarely rehabilitated. With encouraging statistics in hand, perhaps those who passionately disagree could start a group home where they could volunteer their compassionate services.

  23. 67 · HarlemSun said

    the arbitrary, nolens volens processes of jurisprudence, evidence, appeal and outcomes in the U.S. capital system.

    HarlemSun, I have had some access to lawyers who work for a death penalty appeals center in Charlottesville, and two others who write about various aspects related to capital punishment. So I do have some idea about the issues you mention. With all due respect, I do think that econometrics/legal empiricists could help with the deterrence issue (and that is basically what I was trying to say in my posts: If it turns out that capital punishment does have a significant deterrence effect, then that claim should influence our assessment of capital punishment). Camille’s post # 71 mentions some general advantages related to statistical analysis.

    It is true that fancy econometric pyrotechnics have not settled the issue. But like you point out, people who work in the criminal justice system and are anti-cp advocates (especially lawyers who deal with the conviction and appeals process), could point out that it doesn’t matter what the deterrence studies reveal. They could (and do say) that our system is so broken that we cannot guarantee the justice is being done. So even if the deterrence effect is robust, the capital punishment should be stopped until (at least) we can guarantee due process. Second, there are other objections to cp that do not all hinge on the deterrence effect – and so again, the results of these studies do us no good even if they are acceptable in theory. Sorry if my posts in this matter were gauche – you know more about the justice system than I do, and do some pretty courageous (and perhaps somewhat discouraging) work.

  24. My opposition to cp is usually met with a retort on why people dont want to be taxed to keep these criminals alive. Does anyone have any data on how much it actually costs to keep death row inmates alive? Maybe a $ per tax payer metric?

  25. truman show, I apologize if my questions came across stridently. I wasn’t accusing you of being a troll — because I’m unfamiliar with your comment history I was asking in the off-chance that you might be stirring the pot. I was genuinely curious about your points — hence the “please clarify.” Again, no harm or slander intended.

    My question about “most killers get out” — in the context of the U.S. — was intended because murder is relatively rare (compared to other crime, violent and “non-violent”), and so there IS information on time to parole, etc. Oftentimes folks take “exceptional” cases and try to argue for police prescriptions for the whole system on that basis. For example, does it really make sense to frame our entire sentencing structure on murder, when it constitutes less than 1% of total violent crime (in most years)? Does it make sense to argue for the death penalty if, after serving 50 years in prison, 10 out of 1000 convicted murderers are released? And what about those who are convicted, then exonerated because they were falsely charged?

    There are a LOT of misconceptions about a) what prison life is like, b) what your “odds” in the justice system are (of arrest, conviction, sentencing, parole), and c) what happens when a person is going through the process of appeals. I understand your point re: victims’ rights groups, but with respect, they’re hardly an unbiased source.

    My opposition to cp is usually met with a retort on why people dont want to be taxed to keep these criminals alive. Does anyone have any data on how much it actually costs to keep death row inmates alive? Maybe a $ per tax payer metric?

    This varies by state, and it varies by whether or not someone is convicted of state murder or federal murder. The cost of execution is also VERY high. Did you have a specific locality in mind, or the national average?

  26. Did you have a specific locality in mind, or the national average?

    A national average (or national total) for the annual cost of maintenance of death row. I can just divide that by number of taxpayers to get an annual cost per taxpayer. (I am not sure if this is being too simplistic.). So if this is something like a few dollars per tax payer per year, it then removes the perception of undue burden on the taxpayer. Also, I didnt think of the cost of executions as you mentioned. So then I guess a net number would be most effective.

    (Annual cost of nationwide death row maintenance – cost of executions nationwide) / number of taxpayers.

    We could then compare this to things like (cost of war in Iraq per year)/number of taxpayers

  27. for non-seq. “According to a study by the Justice Policy Institute, taxpayers spend about $30,000 a year to imprison each person, including medical care. This amount increases with the age of each prisoner. People over the age of 55 cost approximately $50,000 to $75,000 a year to incarcerate. If they sit in prison from the age of about 20 and live a “full life” to 79.5 the cost would be ~$2,535,000. That of course is just an average. Now multiply that buy the number of men/women sitting in prison for life. http://www.justicepolicy.org/

    Now even if the death penalty is imposed, it drags it out for 10-20 years, so what with the legal fees, it probably costs more in the long run than life-imprisonment.”

    Camille. No problem Camille–I think you are a lawyer, n’est-ce pas? I have seen your comments and you do lay your positions out clearly and objectively, though I don’t always agree. You are absolutely right about concentrating too much on murder, but let’s face it, that’s what brings out the cold sweat and attempted murder is something I personally experienced (not as perp). Few of us fret as much over the possibility that some corporate nonentity will steal our 401K. One reason there isn’t more murder is because a lot of people arrange their lives around avoiding it. One must not let personal opinions cloud one’s judgment and if my kid turned out to be a cold blooded remorseless killer, I’d feel the same justice should apply as to any cold blooded, remorseless killer. In fact if I ever kill anybody in cold blood, I hope they off me quickly. When you ask for stats I can only go so far because frankly looking too much at this subject is upsetting to me and perhaps I should not have engaged in this discussion. I go by what I have read in the past.

  28. No problem Camille–I think you are a lawyer, n’est-ce pas?

    I’m not — I’m a political economist :) [similar "logical" argument style, though] Thanks,nonetheless, for your response — I really do appreciate it. I’m sorry to hear that this is an issue that has affected you so directly, and I’m sorry if I caused additional distress. I’ll look forward to future exchanges, perhaps on topics that don’t hit quite as close to home.

  29. for non-seq. “According to a study by the Justice Policy Institute, taxpayers spend about $30,000 a year to imprison each person, including medical care. This amount increases with the age of each prisoner. People over the age of 55 cost approximately $50,000 to $75,000 a year to incarcerate. If they sit in prison from the age of about 20 and live a “full life” to 79.5 the cost would be ~$2,535,000. That of course is just an average. Now multiply that buy the number of men/women sitting in prison for life. http://www.justicepolicy.org/

    Based on your numbers, it costs $2.5 million per person over 60 years (if they start at 20 and are in prison till 79.5 or 80. This is overstating it since all death row inmates dont start at 20 and all do not stay till 80). The cost per year is then $2.5 million/ 60 years or $41,667 per year. There are 3,350 death row inmates in the US as of Jan 2007 (deathpenaltyinfo.com). So the total cost per year to maintain death row inmates is $41,667 per year x 3,350 inmates per year = $140 million. As of Jan 2003 (the best data I could get quickly), there were 131 million americans who filed income taxes. So then cost per taxpayer is $140 million per year / 131 million taxpayers = $1.09 per taxpayer per year. The cost of a value meal at McDonalds.

    YOu can argue for cp based on other ethical/moral factors but dont tell me it costs too much to keep them alive.

  30. If you turn out to be innocent, then the state will be forced to pay you a very good backwages and damages for all the suffering you went through. I am shocked that a few states lack any mechanism to reward wrongly convicted prisoners with megadamages.

    This is actually a good point, there should be some retribution other than “sorry, we messed up” Like remember at the end of the movie Sneakers, where they all ask for free sh*t.

  31. “I’m sorry if I caused additional distress. I’ll look forward to future exchanges, perhaps on topics that don’t hit quite as close to home.” You didn’t cause the distress Camille. The murder of poor Abjihit Mahato caused my distress. I know I need to make myself more clear if I am going to comment however. We all have our touchy buttons. I’ve been lurking around Sepiamutiny and will continue to. It’s one of the blogs that really does rate as debate and conversation and not irrational soundbites.

  32. Yes and no, melbournedesi. I hope I don’t start an academia-based flame-war,

    thanks for the clarification. Australia has abolished the death penalty for 40 years but strangely continues to argue for the death penalty for the Bali terrorists ( beats me). I dont think statistics can or should be used in an non-recourse matter like capital punishment. Taking of life is a moral issue – not one easily amenable to statistics. Islamic Justice seems to be more practical in this case.

  33. “YOu can argue for cp based on other ethical/moral factors but dont tell me it costs too much to keep them alive.” Those aren’t my figures, they are from Justice Policy Institute, an org that seems to be quite anti-cp. Since they are projected stats, of course they subject to adjustment. I think a better estimate would be what has already been spent on them. Thousands of perps have spent their last years on earth in jail. Quite honestly, when it comes to the type of criminal we’re discussing, I don’t care if they live or die as long as they don’t get to do any more harm to the rest of us. I think the universe takes care of the rest, but that’s the way I handle the sense of injustice. And yes, I think you could argue there are better uses for the money than keeping alive people like: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/predators/moors/index_1.html. For instance, if environment is responsible for at least some of the crime, then maybe putting kids in a better environment, with people who can guide them. It does take money.