11/02/04 — Two vacancies left on Lane jury

View Archive

Two vacancies left on Lane jury

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

Two more jurors were seated Monday in Wayne County Superior Court in the first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane, leaving only two vacancies.

The two men, a truck driver and a brick mason, were among 100 people who have been interviewed since the process started Oct. 13.

The 33-year-old Lane was accused of kidnaping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002, in his home on Brandywine Drive in Patetown.

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

The selection of the two men came after one prospective juror said he favored the death penalty, but then changed his mind because some convicted defendants had been cleared due to DNA analysis.

But the man, a retired military man and college graduate, said this crime was "heinous and violent" and would support the death penalty.

Defense lawyer Edwin L. West III of Wilmington immediately objected and said the minds of the other three jurors had been tainted from the comment. He asked that they all be removed.

Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville interviewed the other three one at a time. All admitted that they heard the remark, but all said they would not be influenced by it and still could be fair and impartial. Hooks denied the defense motion.

During the afternoon session, West renewed his motion. Hooks explained what he had done and denied it again.

The state, represented by District Attorney Branny Vickory and assistants Terry Light and Jan Kroboth, had accepted three of the four remaining prospective jurors but needed the entire morning session to get the final one.

Then the defense interviewed the four. When the death penalty issue arose, Vickory objected that the defense was getting to talk to them individually. But West, who is assisted by Richard McNeil of Jacksonville, was allowed to continue.

One of the two seated said he believed in "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but as he aged, his opinion was not "cut in stone." But then he said if "the man's guilty, he's got to pay, but what his payment will be, will be determined." The other man said he had no opinion on capital punishment.

The defense challenged the other two for cause. A contractor was excused because he knew Sheriff Carey Winders and another high-ranking officer, both of whom may testify.

The other, a woman, said it would be difficult to consider life, but she did say to Vickory that she would consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the penalty phase. Both challenges were allowed.

Three more people were interviewed for the final two spots.

One was quickly excused by the court, because he was not a citizen. A woman said she did not accept the death penalty and also was excused. The third said she could follow the law but preferred life.

When the final two jurors are seated, at least two alternates will be selected.

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