01/18/04 — 300 Jurors will be summoned for murder trial

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300 Jurors will be summoned for murder trial

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on January 18, 2004 11:03 PM

Three hundred jurors will be summoned for the trial of Eric Glenn Lane, who is accused of murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield in 2002.

Judge G.K. Butterfield Jr. of Wilson decided that Friday during a hearing on 49 pretrial motions in Wayne County Superior Court.

Lane is charged with the murder and kidnapping of the little girl on May 17, 2002. He is also charged with first-degree sexual offense.

Precious had lived with her mother on Cross Cut Place in the Saulston community.

The little girl's body was found by two people near the Airport Road bridge over Nahunta Swamp, and the crime gripped northern Wayne County until Lane's arrest four days later.

Lane was a neighbor of the child's grandmother, who kept the girl while her mother worked at a fast-food restaurant in Goldsboro. Lane and the grandmother lived a few doors apart on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community.

Sheriff Carey Winders credited a canvass of the neighborhood with turning up enough evidence to charge Lane with the crime.

Butterfield said he hoped the number of jurors would be sufficient so that the presiding judge does not have to send out to a shopping area for more jurors at the last minute. That was a reference to Superior Court Judge Ripley E. Rand, who twice ordered sheriff's deputies to find jurors at public places, because Wayne County did not have enough jurors.

District Attorney Branny Vickory had asked that as many as 400 people be summoned for jury duty. The summons will be mailed several weeks in advance. Later, prospective jurors will get questionnaires to fill out on numerous issues.

Excuses and requests for deferrals from service will be heard before the trial, scheduled for May 3.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Lane would be sentenced to either life in prison or death.

Lane said nothing during the two-hour hearing. Wearing a white shirt and black slacks, he was flanked by his court-appointed lawyers, Ed West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville.

West said later that Butterfield's rulings on the defense motions were fair.

The judge left undecided a ruling on how the jurors would be selected -- one at a time or from 12 seated in the box. He said the trial judge would make that decision.

Butterfield, a former state Supreme Court justice, may or may not conduct the trial, because he is considering a run for the First District congressional seat held by Rep. Frank Ballance.

Many of the defense motions dealt with issues involving "equal access" to the state's evidence and other information.

Butterfield said he was "impressed" with the way the lawyers have handled the case. Vickory was joined by Assistant District Attorneys Jan Kroboth and Terry Light.