04/21/04 — Lane murder trial continued

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Lane murder trial continued

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on April 21, 2004 2:07 PM

The trial of Eric Glenn Lane, charged with the 2002 sexual assault and murder of a 5-year-old Precious Whitfield in Patetown, has been continued until the fall.

The Wayne County Superior Court trial was scheduled for May 3, but it was postponed Tuesday until Oct. 11 because of the defense team's scheduling conflicts.

"I'm worried about my preparedness to go forward," defense lawyer Edwin West III of Wilmington told Judge Jack Hooks, who has been assigned to hear the case.

West said he had finished a lengthy capital case in March and had another client on death row. A clemency hearing for that client is scheduled for May 11, and his execution is scheduled for May 21.

West said the execution would fall in the middle of the Lane trial. "For me to do both of these things would be incredibly difficult," he said.

The co-defense counsel, Richard McNeill of Jacksonville, also completed two recent courts-martial.

West said the 33-year-old Lane was being examined at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh to determine if he would be competent to stand trial. The examination has not been completed, and both sides found out Tuesday that it would take longer.

West also said he only recently received lab reports from the State Bureau of Investigation. He said he had requested the reports in 2002.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said during the hearing that the state would "like to go forward on the scheduled date, but I understand the defense issues."

When the case unfolded May 17, 2002, Wayne County sheriff's detectives said the little girl had played with another child in the defendant's yard on Brandywine Drive and then had vanished. Her disappearance was not reported until the next day. An all-day search was called off at nightfall. Then a day later, her body was found by three people fishing in Nahunta Creek near Airport Road.

Lane was a neighbor of the girl's grandmother who lived a few doors away. The grandmother kept the child while the mother worked at a fast-food restaurant in Goldsboro. Precious lived with her mother on Cross Cut Place at Saulston.

Sheriff Carey Winders credited a neighborhood canvass with turning up enough evidence to implicate Lane. His detectives also uncovered evidence in Lane's home and along a route that the defendant may have taken to the creek.

Lane was arrested May 21, 2002, and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, a first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a child and a lewd and lascivious act. He has been held without bond in a state prison.

Hooks, of Whiteville, also rescheduled a hearing for Aug. 9 on a defense motion to suppress certain evidence. An Aug. 6 deadline was set for statements from defense experts. The state has until Sept. 9 to produce its rebuttal experts.

Prospective jurors whose excuses were to be heard Friday will be released from duty. Instead, the excuses will be heard Oct. 1.