10/31/04 — Jury selection to continue Monday in Lane murder trial

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Jury selection to continue Monday in Lane murder trial

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 31, 2004 2:03 AM

The search for four more jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane will resume Monday morning in Wayne County Superior Court.

About 90 people have been interviewed since Oct. 13. Only about 50 are left in the jury pool to fill the remaining seats and two to four alternate positions.

The defense, however, has only two of its 14 peremptory challenges left. The state can excuse four more people without reason. Each side will get an additional peremptory challenge for each alternate seated.

The trial started Oct. 11 with a two-day competency hearing before Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville.

Lane, 33, is accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002, at his home on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. The little girl was visiting family friends who lived a few doors from Lane. Her body was found two days later by people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge. Lane was arrested the next day.

If he is convicted of first-degree murder, then the same jury will deliberate his sentence -- life in prison without parole or death.

The state passed two jurors to the defense for questioning at the end of Friday's session. One, a brick mason, said he thought the death penalty could be an appropriate punishment. The other, a truck driver, said he would go along with the majority.

But to get those two panelists, the prosecution had to interview nine others. District Branny Vickory used a peremptory challenge to excuse a woman who said she "wouldn't feel comfortable sending someone to death," but she did say she could following the law in the four-step sentencing process. Two were excused for medical reasons. The others were excused because of their views on the death penalty, their knowledge of the case or their inability to be fair and impartial.

At the day's end, the state, also represented by Assistant District Attorneys Jan Kroboth and Terry Light, was questioning two men. Both said they had friends involved in murder case. One said a close friend had a pending murder charge.

At the start of the session, defense lawyers Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville had used peremptory challenges to remove a Goldsboro firefighter and a woman nurse.

The judge also excused a woman night-shift security worker because of her hours. When Hooks told her to get a good night's sleep, she replied, "I'm on vacation this week." The judge responded, "You waited a long time to spring that one on us."

Lane, who worked in his family's electrical business, also was charged with first-degree kidnapping, a first-degree statutory rape, a first-degree sexual offense, taking indecent liberties with a minor and a lewd and lascivious act. He has been held without bond since his arrest.