10/22/04 — Filling jury box for Lane trial drags on

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Filling jury box for Lane trial drags on

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 22, 2004 1:59 PM

The state accepted eight new jurors Thursday to fill vacancies and passed them to the defense for questioning in the Wayne County Superior Court trial of Eric Glenn Lane.

When the lengthy session ended at 6 p.m., defense lawyers Edwin L. West and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville still had to interview one prospective juror on her views of the death penalty and pretrial publicity.

Lane, 33, is on trial for the sexual assault, kidnapping and murder of 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002.

If Lane is convicted of first-degree murder, then the same jury would decide his sentence -- life in prison without parole or death -- in a separate, second phase of the trial.

Jury selection will resume Monday morning. Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville canceled today's session, because he and West had out-of-town medical appointments.

Four jurors have been accepted by the state and the defense. Jury selection is expected to take another week. When 12 people are seated, then two to four alternates also will be selected.

Four of the seven new panelists who have been questioned by the defense were challenged for cause because of their views on the death penalty. Hooks excused three, frustrating the prosecution and creating more vacancies on the panel.

One woman who was excused said she had a 4-year-old granddaughter and "would hate for something like that to happen to her. It would be hard for me to sit on the jury." She did say life without parole could be a worse sentence than death. Later, she said her beliefs about alcohol would impair her ability to serve.

Another woman who was excused said either life or death was "a severe punishment. ƒ Life without parole is nothing to sneeze at." But then she said she had formed an opinion about the defendant's guilt or innocence.

A third woman who was excused said she had strong feelings for the death penalty. She said it was not right for someone to take another person's life.

The state, represented by District Attorney Branny Vickory and assistants Terry Light and Jan Kroboth, objected to the three challenges. But Judge Hooks upheld them.

However, Hooks denied the fourth defense challenge for cause. The man said he could vote for life, but he also said, "If someone takes a life, he should lose theirs." He said he could follow the law as instructed by the judge, even if he disagrees with it.

Each side also has 14 peremptory challenges so that each can excuse any prospective juror without reason. The state has used six, and the defense has used four.

Lane was arrested four days after the girl was murdered and one day after her body was found by people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge.

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