Lawyers seek to toss out Lane's confession
By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on August 11, 2004 2:04 PM
Defense lawyers for Eric Lane questioned law enforcement officers Tuesday about the process and techniques used when their client allegedly confessed to murder.
The 32-year-old Lane is facing kidnapping, sexual assault and murder charges in the 2002 death of 5-year-old Precious Whitfield of Wayne County.
His defense lawyers are trying to have that confession, and evidence taken from Lane's home, thrown out of court. The pre-trial hearing is in Wayne County Superior Court.
Precious disappeared after playing on a swing set in Lane's yard on a Friday evening, and her body was discovered under the Airport Road bridge two days later.
Within days after her body was discovered, authorities said they obtained a confession from Lane.
Defense lawyers Ed West of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville questioned how the officers obtained a consent to search Lane's house, what prompted their client to take a polygraph test and if his constitutional rights were fully explained to him during the process.
They also wanted to know if Lane, a self-confessed alcoholic, had exhibited any signs of being under the influence during any of the interviews.
All the law enforcement officers giving testimony Tuesday said that Lane did not appear to be intoxicated and he spoke clearly during the investigation.
SBI Special Agent Joe Smith administered the polygraph to Lane, a day and a half after Lane told Wayne County deputies that he would be glad to take the test, according to court testimony.
Smith said he explained the polygraph process to Lane and asked him to sign a form agreeing that he was taking the test voluntarily.
The defense lawyers asked if Smith knew whether Lane could read.
Smith replied that he read the form aloud to Lane, but thought Lane could read since he had finished the eighth grade.
Smith said he also told Lane that he was free to leave, and that Lane understood.
"He said that he hadn't been in the hospital for the last 10 years and hadn't had medicine in 24 hours," Smith said. "But he said he had drunk a 12-pack of beer the previous night, but had stopped drinking at 11 p.m."
Lane also told the SBI agent that the best thing that ever happened to him was getting married, and the worst thing was losing his wife.
He told Smith that he had no best friend, except God and his 3-year-old son.
Before taking the test, Lane told the agent that he didn't know who committed the crime, but thought that whoever did it "might be sick."
"When I asked him why did he think they did it, he replied that he hadn't figured it out," Smith said.
Lane also told Smith that the person who did it should get a second chance "if they're sick."
Smith testified that they took a short break after the polygraph test was administered.
"After the break, I told him that he failed and that I knew he was lying," Smith said. "Shortly thereafter, he confessed."
Lane told Smith that Precious and a 7-year-old boy from the neighborhood had come down to swing on the set in his yard. Lane had been drinking. He said that the two children came inside to look at the goldfish and eels he had in a tank, and that he gave Precious some Pepsi to drink. Then the children left.
That was the same story he had told investigators since the beginning of the investigation, but in the alleged confession to the SBI agent, Lane added that Precious returned to his house about 15 minutes later. She wanted to see the fish and eels again.
He was still drinking.
Soon he began tickling her, and she was laughing, he said. They fell on the carpet playing, while he was tickling her between her legs. The next thing he remembers was waking up half-clothed on top of her.
"I shook her, trying to get her to wake up," Smith read from the confession.
Lane then described in detail, to the agent, how he wrapped the body in a blue tarp, secured it with duct tape and transported Precious, along with her bike to a creek about four miles away, Smith said.
Lane said he thought she was dead when he put the tarp over her, and believed that he had suffocated her with his body.
Smith said that Lane cried when he confessed, and that before he left the room he said something like, "I wish I were dead, and I'm a sick person."
Lane told Smith he was an alcoholic and that his health was poor.
Smith told District Attorney Branny Vickory that he did not try to coerce Lane's statement.
Defense lawyer McNeil wanted to know what crime details Smith had told Lane before the confession.
"How did he start implicating himself?" McNeil asked.
"He said that he couldn't remember having sex," Smith said, "And I said that it was possible he had blacked out, and was on top."
McNeil asked Smith what he talked about with Lane in the 30 to 45 minutes before he implicated himself.
Smith said he probably had mentioned sexual activity regarding Precious, but hadn't discussed the finding of the body.
McNeil asked if the systematic interrogation technique used by the SBI was geared to get confessions.
Smith answered that it depended on the outcome of the test.
"If he failed the test, yes," Smith said. "We are trying to get the truth."
Sheriff's Capt.George Raecher testified about processing the crime scene at the bridge and at Lane's house.
He also described the items taken from Lane's house, which included a red scooter, bags of trash, a vacuum cleaner bag, some clothes, and a knife.
Sheriff's Det. Sgt. Shawn Harris was the first officer on the scene, and said that a part of the victim's leg was visible from the top of the bridge.
A witness told Harris about seeing a man on a red scooter near the bridge the night Precious disappeared.
Defense lawyer Ed West asked Harris if Lane was a suspect when the deputies questioned him and searched his house.
Harris said that he was a "person of interest" after the body was discovered and after the witness mentioned seeing a man on a red scooter near the bridge.
"He was the last to see her, and he had a moped," Harris said. "It raised a lot of suspicion."
Harris said that Lane was read his Miranda rights before the search.
West said there were constitutional rights relating to searches that weren't the same as the Miranda warnings. "There was never any explanation of his rights in regard to a search of his property, was there?" asked West.
Harris said no, "not specifically," but Lane had said he was willing to do whatever it took to get it straightened out.
Judge Jack Hooks of Whiteville is presiding over the hearing, which resumed at 9:30 today.
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