10/10/04 — Lane trial to begin

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Lane trial to begin

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 10, 2004 2:09 AM

Eric Glenn Lane will go on trial Monday in Wayne County Superior Court for the rape, kidnapping and murder of 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield in 2002.

The 33-year-old Lane was been held without bond since he was arrested May 21, 2002, four days after the little girl was killed.

Lane was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree statutory rape, first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a child, a lewd and lascivious act and first-degree kidnapping.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Lane would be sentenced by a jury to life in prison without parole or death. The rape and sex offense charges also carry a maximum life sentence. The maximum sentence on the other charges totaled 379 months.

Three hundred prospective jurors have been summoned to hear the trial. But after some had been excused, deferred or could not be found, about 140 to 160 were expected to arrive in Courtroom No.1 in the old Courthouse.

After the panelists receive instructions and fill out a questionnaire, Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville has said he will break them into groups. He said last week that the first group will have 24 people and the remaining groups will have 12. Those not needed for questioning by the lawyers will be sent home until further notice.

However, jury selection is not expected to start until Tuesday at the earliest because of another issue.

Hooks also will hold a competency hearing Monday afternoon to determine if Hooks is fit to stand trial and eligible for the death penalty. The hearing and the trial will be conducted in Courtroom No.4.

District Attorney Branny Vickory has said he will seek the death penalty. Assistant DAs Terry Light and Jan Kroboth are helping with the prosecution.

Lane had tried to fire his two court-appointed lawyers, Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville. But last week during a pretrial hearing, the defendant changed his mind and kept them.

West and McNeil filed more than 50 pretrial motions. Some were for equal access to the state's evidence and courtroom technology, and others were to prohibit the death penalty.

Lane, the divorced father of a young son, lived on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. Precious was visiting her grandmother, who lived a few doors away from Lane, and other relatives.

Precious, a kindergarten student, had been described as having a bubbly personality and an omnipresent smile. She lived with her mother, Michelle Whitfield, and her mother's boyfriend on Crosscut Place in Saulston. The girl's father, Anthony Johnson, lived in Texas.

On the fateful afternoon, Precious was playing with several neighborhood children in Lane's yard. They went inside the home, and all left but Precious.

When she was reported missing the next morning, sheriff's detectives and deputies had launched an intense investigation. Her body was found two days later by several people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge. Lane was questioned and arrested following interviews of neighbors and searches of his home and the creek.

The trial is expected to take several weeks.