10/20/04 — Lane trial almost back to square one

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Lane trial almost back to square one

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 20, 2004 2:00 PM

The first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane is almost back to square one in Wayne County Superior Court.

The defense on Tuesday used four of its 14 peremptory challenges to excuse jurors without reason. Four other jurors were removed for cause. That left only four jurors for the trial. Jury selection began Oct. 11.

The 33-year-old Lane was accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002. Lane lived on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community, a few doors from where the little girl was visiting family friends.

If Lane is convicted of first-degree murder, the jury will decide the punishment: life in prison without parole or death.

Four new jurors were accepted by the state later Tuesday. The state tried to remove two for cause, because they said they could not accept the death penalty. But after prodding by the defense, they said they could follow the judge's instructions on the law in the sentencing phase.

The last juror said her daughter's friend had helped find the little girl's body. Precious was found in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge two days after she was reported missing. The prospective juror said she could consider either punishment.

An earlier panelist said she knew details of the case, including the identity of a motorist flagged down by the people who found the body at the creek. Sheriff's detectives said they had not identified the driver and were trying to locate him. The woman was excused from the jury.

Another prospective juror for the same seat said he could accept either punishment. But after he had been sent to the jury room, it was discovered that he lived in Kinston in another county. He was called back quickly to the courtroom.

"It's been nice doing business with you," Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville said as he excused the man from service. "Drive home safely."

Defense lawyers Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville excused some of the eight for their knowledge of the case and others for their strong views on the death penalty.

District Attorney Branny Vickory is prosecuting the case with assistants Jan Kroboth and Terry Light.

In addition to murder, Lane also was charged with first-degree statutory rape, a first-degree sexual offense, taking indecent liberties with a minor, a lewd and lascivious act and first-degree kidnapping.