10/03/04 — Lane wants to fire his lawyers

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Lane wants to fire his lawyers

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 3, 2004 2:01 AM

The man accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 5-year-old girl wants to fire his lawyers and defend himself.

Eric Glenn Lane filed a hand-written motion Friday in Wayne County Superior Court to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers, Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeill of Jacksonville.

The 33-year-old Lane was charged with the first-degree murder of Precious Ebony Whitfield, who was visiting relatives on May 17, 2003, on Brandywine Drive in Patetown, and then dumping her body in Nahunta Creek.

Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville did not rule on Lane's motion. Instead, he ordered that the defendant be evaluated by doctors at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh and also by experts provided by the defense lawyers. Hooks said he hoped the examinations could be completed Tuesday so that he could hold another hearing Wednesday.

West said Lane has refused to be examined by defense doctors.

Both sides said earlier that Lane wanted to fire his lawyers. They were surprised that the issue did not come up during a pretrial hearing Monday.

When the defense lawyers asked for a continuance last spring, they noted in their motion that Lane was not cooperating with them. The trial is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Lane wrote in his letter that he was not happy with the lawyers, that he felt that they weren't not on his side and that he "didn't see eye to eye" with them.

Judge Hooks said Lane's request was "a little bit unusual." Then he questioned the defendant about his education. Lane admitted that he completed the eighth grade, had a learning disability and could read and write only a little. Lane said the wrote the letter with another person's help.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Lane could be sentenced to either life in prison without parole or death.

Hooks told him that he also could be sentenced from 144 months to life each on charges of first-degree statutory rape and a first-degree sexual offense; 10 to 59 months each on charges of indecent liberties with a minor and a lewd and lascivious act, and 144 to 261 months on a charge of first-degree kidnapping.

After explaining the punishment that he could receive, Hooks asked Lane: "Do you believe it's in your best interests not to be represented by an attorney?"

"Yes" was his reply.

Then Hooks asked Lane: "Do you understand that if you are convicted of first-degree murder, there is a significant likelihood that these three lawyers will ask the jury to sentence you to death?"

Again the defendant answered affirmatively.

The judge asked Lane if he had discussed his disagreements with his lawyers. He said he had not. Hooks then allowed Lane to meet privately with his lawyers for about 25 minutes.

West said Lane disagreed with how the case was being handled and also how he was being housed in Central Prison in Raleigh.

Then Hooks again asked if Lane wanted to fire his lawyers. The defendant said he did not want any lawyers. The judge suggested that lawyers can protect a defendant's right in court and offer advice.

West argued that the threshold for someone to represent himself, according to court decisions, was that he be competent and intelligent. The defense had filed a motion to bar the use of the death penalty, because, they said, Lane was mentally retarded.

"Those are our concerns," West said. "I have a real question if he understands the maximum punishment."

Before the motions, Hooks heard 42 people explain why they could not serve on the jury. Most excuses were denied. A few were granted because of medical hardships. A few other people were given deferments to another term of court.

A total of 300 people were summoned for jury service. Seventy-six summonses were unserved, and one person had died. Twenty-three others submitted letters to be excused. Hooks ruled on them Friday afternoon. Many were full-time students, and their service was deferred.

District Attorney Branny Vickory and two assistants, Terry Light and Jan Kroboth, are prosecuting the case. Sheriff's Capt. George Raecher and Detective Sgt. Mike Kabler were the lead investigators.