10/28/04 — Jury selection plods along

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Jury selection plods along

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 28, 2004 2:00 PM

A new method designed to speed up jury selection in the murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane produced no new jurors Wednesday.

The state did question numerous people in Wayne County Superior Court for the five remaining seats. The prosecution excused six panelists for cause and used peremptory challenges to remove two more.

The defense was to resume its questioning of the five panelists today. Defense lawyer Edwin L. West III of Wilmington said he thought that he would finish by mid-morning.

The 33-year-old Lane is accused of the rape, kidnap and murder of 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002. The little girl was visiting family friends who lived a few doors away from Lane on Brandywine Drive in Patetown.

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

The trial started Oct. 11 with a two-day competency hearing. Jury selection began Oct. 13, and only seven jurors have been seated in 10 days. When 12 are seated, then two to four alternates also will be needed. The presentation of evidence is expected to take several weeks.

Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville had said he was abandoning the one-juror-at-a-time interview process over the objections of defense lawyers West and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville. For the first nine days, the state and defense questioned jurors individually about pretrial publicity and their opinions of the death penalty.

One panelist was excused Wednesday afternoon because she broke down during questioning about the victim's age. She told Hooks that she would do her best, but her ability to be fair and impartial would be impaired. The judge noted that when the woman was excused, she was crying on her way out of the courtroom.

Other jurors were excused because they opposed the death penalty under any circumstance or had formed an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

One man peremptorily removed by the state admitted that he was on probation. The other said he knew Lane's family and said they were nice people. He said he was shocked when heard of the crime and supported the death penalty with very guarded caution.

The prosecution, represented by District Attorney Branny Vickory and assistants Jan Kroboth and Terry Light, have used nine peremptory challenges, the same number as the defense.