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Suspect Charged in Auburn Student's Killing Could Face Death Penalty

A 23-year-old man has been charged with capital murder in the death of an 18-year-old Auburn University student and could face the death penalty if convicted, authorities announced Saturday.

The suspect, Courtney Lockhart, also faces charges of kidnapping, robbery and attempted rape, Auburn Assistant Police Chief Thomas Dawson said at a news conference. He affirmed that authorities have strong evidence to prove that Lockhart killed Lauren Burk, a freshman at Auburn University.

Dawson declined to identify the evidence or potential motives for the crimes, and he wouldn't say conclusively whether Burk had been targeted or was the victim of a random crime.

"I don’t believe he targeted her for that long, if he targeted her at all," Dawson said.

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Burk of Marietta, Ga., was found shot and wounded Tuesday night on a state highway a few miles off campus. She died later at a hospital. At about the same time, her car was found on campus engulfed in flames.

Auburn police and numerous other state and local agencies formed a task force to investigate the killing, and they identified Lockhart as the prime suspect through a photograph obtained Wednesday, Dawson said, though he wouldn't say how the photo was obtained.

Lockhart was arrested Friday in Phenix City, Ala., about 30 miles from Auburn near the Georgia border. He tried to flee Phenix City police by car after being pulled over Friday, Dawson said.

"His car matched the description of a vehicle in a string of robberies," Dawson said. When an officer approached the car at the traffic stop, Lockhart drove off, Dawson said.

In a short pursuit, Lockhart's car broke down and he was captured by officers while trying to flee on foot, Dawson said.

Phenix City police then contacted Auburn police. It isn't clear whether Phenix police were previously aware Lockhart was a suspect in the Auburn case.

"They saw things and called us and everything fell into place at that point," Dawson said, without elaborating.

"I'd call it a blessing from God," he said, "and then I'd call it good police work all around."

Lockhart, from rural Smiths in Russell County, was in custody Saturday with bail set at $250,000, Dawson said. There was no immediate word if he had a lawyer to speak for him; if he is indigent, a lawyer could be appointed at a Lee County Circuit Court hearing Monday in Auburn.

Burk's killing, which shocked the Auburn University campus as well as the greater Auburn community, occurred the day before the mysterious killing of another female college student, in North Carolina.

No one had been arrested as of Saturday morning in the killing of Eve Carson, a senior at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, though police released photos of a possible suspect at a news conference held almost simultaneously with the news event in Auburn.

Authorities say connections between the two killings are unlikely.

“We have been in contact with Auburn authorities there. ... We don’t believe the cases are related," Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian Curran said.

Click here for more on the Carson killing investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.