09/28/04 — Lawyers await judge's decision on man's confession

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Lawyers await judge's decision on man's confession

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on September 28, 2004 2:04 PM

A judge has delayed his decision until Friday on whether the confession of a Wayne County man accused of murdering a 5-year-old girl in 2002 should be allowed in court.

Superior Court Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville ruled on several defense motions, but not the motion to suppress defendant Eric Glenn Lane's alleged confession. Lane's defense lawyers want his statements to officers kept out of the trial.

The 33-year-old Lane was charged with the first-degree murder of Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002. He also was charged with first-degree kidnapping, a first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a child and a lewd and a lascivious act.

Hooks said he will rule Friday on the motion to suppress and set procedures for the trial, scheduled to start Oct. 11.

At one point, District Attorney Branny Vickory indicated that he was not pleased with the delay. He asked the judge to rule on the motion to suppress and schedule jury selection.

"We're two weeks away from a trial," he said.

Later, Vickory and defense lawyers Ed West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeill of Jacksonville said there were other issues that they thought would take up much of the time Monday. But those issues did not come up.

West argued for such motions as reports on Lane's mental health and psychological testing, expert witnesses, a jury questionnaire, the jury selection process, technological access equal to that of the state, the defendant's criminal record, criminal and mental health records of possible inmate witnesses and out-of-state lay witnesses. Hooks asked the lawyers to resolve some issues during the lunch break.

West said he thought the jurors could be selected from 12 at a time, instead of the more time-consuming one at a time. But he said jurors could be questioned one at a time on "sensitive issues."

Judge Hooks said he was not afraid to let the sides question "a potentially explosive juror" alone and he would send the others outside.

West also wanted Internet access in the courtroom, similar to what the District Attorney's Office has. The state Administrative Office of the Courts was to be asked if that were possible.

The defense will get Lane's Wayne County mental health records and psychological testing results from Dorothea Dix Hospital.

The hearing was delayed for almost an hour, because Lane had not been brought on time from Central Prison. Lane was dressed in dark slacks, a tan shirt, white sneakers and blue jacket that he returned to his father after the hearing.

Lane was arrested four days after the murder. The divorced father of a young son, Lane lived on Brandywine Drive in Patetown, a few doors away from the girl's grandmother. Precious was visiting the grandmother and other relatives that day.

Precious lived with her mother and her mother's boyfriend on Crosscut Place at Saulston.

The girl's body was found the next day by several people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge.

A witness had told officers about seeing a man on a red scooter near the bridge. Lane owned a red scooter. Other physical evidence was recovered at the bridge and Lane's home.