10/29/04 — Judge denies mistrial motion

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Judge denies mistrial motion

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 29, 2004 2:03 PM

An eighth juror was seated Thursday in Wayne County Superior Court in the murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane -- but not before the defense asked for a mistrial.

Defense lawyer Edwin L. West III of Wilmington had objected to questions of prospective jurors by Assistant District Attorney Jan Kroboth.

West had asked panelists late Wednesday afternoon if they could be fair and impartial if the 33-year-old defendant did not testify. Three said it would be difficult.

When Mrs. Kroboth also asked the jurors about the same thing Thursday, she noted that defense lawyers use the tactic in order to get the final closing argument or for other reasons. That's when West objected.

Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville denied the motion, and jury selection continued for an 11th day. The trial started Oct. 11 with a two-day competency hearing.

The last juror seated, a male nurse, also had been a police officer. He joined five women and two other men on the panel.

Lane is accused of raping, kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002. The defendant lived a few doors from where the little girl was visiting family friends on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. Her body was found three days later by several people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge. Lane was arrested and charged the next day after an intense investigation.

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

During the latest selection process, three women panelists were excused for cause by the defense, because they said it might be hard for them to be fair to Lane. The defense then used its 10th of 14 peremptory challenges to excuse a man who had strong views on the death penalty.

Later, the prosecution -- represented by District Attorney Branny Vickory and assistants Terry Light and Mrs. Kroboth -- challenged two women for cause. One said she believed death would be the proper sentence, if Lane is convicted. The other said she knew the victim's family.

When the afternoon session ended, West was questioning the four prospective jurors. Richard McNeil of Jacksonville is assisting in the defense.