10/21/04 — Jurors excused for views on death penalty

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Jurors excused for views on death penalty

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 21, 2004 1:58 PM

Twelve jurors have been seated again in Wayne County Superior Court for the first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane.

But when the state finished its questioning of them individually on Wednesday, four were excused and then replaced. The prosecution then questioned the four newcomers on their opinion of the death penalty and pretrial publicity.

Then District Attorney Branny Vickory, assisted by Jan Kroboth and Terry Light, interviewed all 12 jurors at the end of the afternoon session on their knowledge of witnesses.

When Vickory read a list of more than 100 possible witnesses, one panelist admitted that she knew quite a few of them.

"You know everybody," said Vickory, evoking laughs from the courtroom audience.

Lane, 33, is accused of raping, kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Whitfield on May 17, 2002. The little girl was visiting family friends who lived a few doors away from Lane on Brandywine Drive at Patetown.

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

Once the state accepts 12 jurors, defense lawyers Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville will question them.

During the morning session, the state challenged two of the first 12 jurors for cause. One said he had changed his opinion about the death penalty and could not vote for death. The other had medical problems that, he said, would make him useless on the jury. Both challenges were allowed by Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville.

The state also used two more of its 14 peremptory challenges -- for a total of six since the trial started -- to excuse two other potential jurors.

When Vickory interviewed the new panelists individually about the death penalty, one man said, "Two wrongs don't make a right." He was challenged for cause and excused. A home-school teacher and a woman who had a family member involved in a murder case also were excused for cause.

The four replacement jurors all favored the death penalty. One said, "A person needs to be accountable for what he does." Another said he learned of the case from a deputy sheriff's girlfriend. He said he did not like lethal injection as a mean of execution but he said he favored the electric chair.

The final two prospective jurors seated came from the fourth panel. The jury pool was divided into 11 panels. Jury selection is expected to continue until next week. The trial may take several more weeks.

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