10/17/04 — Jury selection continues in Lane trial

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Jury selection continues in Lane trial

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 17, 2004 2:04 AM

Twelve jurors were seated Friday -- but probably only temporarily -- in the first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane in Wayne County Superior Court.

Lane was accused of raping, kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Whitfield on May 17, 2002, after she had played in his yard on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community.

The state accepted the 12 panelists on their answers to two issues -- their acceptance of the death penalty as a possible punishment and their lack of knowledge of the case.

If Lane is convicted of first-degree murder, he will be sentenced by the same jury to either life in prison without parole or death.

The prosecution also has questioned 10 of the 12 panelists on other issues -- such as their personal history and their knowledge of witnesses.

Jury selection will resume at 10 a.m. Monday before Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville. The first panel of 24 people and some of the second panel of 12 have been interviewed. The next seven panels have 12 each, and the 10th has about 16 people.

When the prosecution -- District Attorney Branny Vickory and assistants Jan Kroboth and Terry Light -- says it is satisfied with the 12 jurors, then the defense can question them.

The state has used four of its 14 peremptory challenges to excuse prospective jurors for any reason. When it accepts 12 jurors, the defense also has 14 peremptories, creating new vacancies.

Twelve jurors also were seated Thursday. But the state used three peremptories. Then the state, with agreement from defense lawyers Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville, challenged another for cause because the man said that "it would be impossible for me to be fair."

Then four replacement jurors were seated. The state challenged two for cause. One said she also could not fair and impartial. The other said she had a work conflict, but the judge denied that challenge. The state then used another peremptory to excuse the woman.

Judge Hooks on Thursday also ordered sheriff's deputies to find the more than 70 prospective jurors who had been summoned but had not reported. Six were found, and they reported Friday. They were placed in the new 11th panel and put on telephone standby.

Most had not received their notices because they had moved, officials said, and their new addresses were not on file with the Board of Elections. The elections list was used to find jurors.

There also was a humorous note during jury selection. One juror brought four young children to court Thursday afternoon.

"Judging by their height, they don't look to be 18," Hooks said.

The woman explained that she had been ordered to report at 2 p.m., about the time the children were getting out of school, and she had no one to care for them. Hooks said the youngsters would not be a problem Friday, because he was holding court only until about 1 p.m.

Then the judge asked a bailiff to alert him if any more children were brought to the jury room.

The 33-year-old Lane was arrested four days after the crimes were committed. He was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree statutory rape, first-degree sexual offense, taking indecent liberties with a minor, a lewd and lascivious act and first-degree kidnapping.

The rape and sex offense charges also carry sentences of about 12 years in prison to life. The other charges carry sentences of up to 31 years in prison.

Precious was visiting family friends who lived a few doors from Lane. Her body was found two days later by people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge.

The little girl lived with her mother and her mother's boyfriend on Cross Cut Place in the Saulston community. Her father was living in Texas.