10/12/04 — Competency hearing scheduled for man on trial for girl's murder

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Competency hearing scheduled for man on trial for girl's murder

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 12, 2004 1:59 PM

A competency hearing to determine if Eric Glenn Lane is fit to stand trial for the murder of a 5-year-old girl was scheduled for this afternoon in Wayne County Superior Court.

The hearing had been scheduled for Monday, but Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville postponed it for a day. Several expert witnesses reportedly were not ready to testify.

The 33-year-old Lane is accused of the rape, kidnapping and murder of Precious Ebony Whitfield, who was visiting relatives who lived a few doors from Lane's home on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community. He has been held without bond since his arrest four days after the May 17, 2002, crime.

Hooks said a competency hearing "was not the easiest thing in the world" to do. While most take a few hours, he said, he has conducted some that took eight to 10 hours.

If Hooks is determined to be competent, he will be tried on charges of a first-degree murder, a first-degree statutory rape, a first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a child, a lewd and lascivious act and a first-degree kidnapping.

A conviction for first-degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty. The rape and sex offense charges have a maximum sentence of life in prison.

However, if Lane is found not to be competent, then he could not be sentenced to death.

The defense also offered motions Monday for a hearing to determine if Lane is mentally retarded and to continue the trial. Hooks denied both.

The state also said it was ready to proceed with DNA testing of evidence. The defense said it had not found an expert to witness the testing, and its motion to postpone the exam was denied.

About 135 jurors reported Monday morning. After receiving instructions, they were broken into panels. The first group had 24 people, the next eight panels had 12 each and the last had the remainder.

Hooks also declined to hear any more requests for deferrals or excuses from prospective jurors. He also asked deputies to find 43 jurors who did not report.

District Attorney Branny Vickory and two assistants, Terry Light and Jan Kroboth, are prosecuting the case.

Lane is being defended by court-appointed lawyers Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville.

The trial is expected to take several weeks.

Precious had been visiting her grandmother and was being cared for by her teen-aged uncle on the afternoon of May 17, 2002.

She had been playing with several neighborhood children in Lane's yard. They went inside, and all but the little girl left.

Precious was not reported missing until the next morning. Her body was found May 19 by several people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge. Lane was arrested the next day.