Life dealt in slain car salesman case

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Jonesboro man was convicted Friday of killing Robert Lovelace, a respected businessman some feel he lured into the treacherous enterprise of cocaine trafficking.

Christopher Avery Brown was convicted of counts of murder, felony murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault. U.S. Marshals arrested him in Brooklyn, New York last year.

Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor sentenced Brown to life in prison for murder, with a consecutive life sentence for armed robbery.

Jury deliberations began about 1 p.m. Friday and concluded just after 6 p.m., capping the 31/2 day trial.

Brown's attorney, Thomas Clegg, paced the jury box during closing arguments and attacked inconsistencies in statements by four eyewitnesses, while labeling the credibility of the state's "star" witness, Charles Dixon, as "non-existent."

Convicted of 15 felonies and a recovering heroin addict, Dixon is "a complete and total liar," Clegg asserted. Dixon provided key testimony that Brown, 35, admitted to killing Lovelace because he "bucked" during the alleged cocaine deal.

Earlier testimony revealed Lovelace came armed to the meeting with a .38 Special in a fanny pack he wore.

But the heart of Clegg's argument hinged on the victim himself. He wondered why Lovelace was coherent enough to provide police with a description of the get-away car and a partial tag number, but never divulged the name of his shooter, whom he knew.

"If you are going to find (Brown) guilty, explain that away," Clegg told jurors. "It is a gaping hole in the middle of the state's case."

Later, Warr reminded jurors that the memories of eyewitnesses -- most standing across a street -- could have been corroded by time and their distance from the scene.

Lovelace was shot at least eight times, Warr said, and was speaking to emergency responders but not in complete sentences.

"I'm quite certain he was in shock," Warr told jurors.

Warr contended that Dixon -- a friend to both the victim and the defendant -- knew too many specifics of the case to be discounted.

By all accounts, Lovelace, 50, was a top-notch car salesman pulled into the underworld of cocaine trafficking, most likely by a chance encounter with Brown, to whom he sold a vehicle, a police detective testified.

Lovelace had recently cashed a 401(k) check for more than $20,000, and the purpose of his meeting Brown -- aka "Show" and "Casey" -- in Stone Mountain was to buy cocaine. The Holiday Inn Express likely served as a convenient meeting place, Warr said.

Lovelace, who was unmarried, leaves behind a 20-year-old daughter studying pre-med at Vanderbilt University, friends said.