11/05/04 — Wayne juror accused of breaking vow of silence

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Wayne juror accused of breaking vow of silence

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 5, 2004 2:02 PM

A 71-year-old prospective juror vehemently denied Thursday that he had made prejudicial comments in the jury pool room about a possible punishment for a man accused of murdering a child.

Wayne Harrison of Pikeville was threatened with a sentence of up to 30 days and a fine of up to $1,000 for contempt of court by Judge D. Jack Hooks who is conducting the murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane in Wayne County Superior Court. Lane is accused of killing 5-year-old Precious Whitfield.

Harrison also denied that he had commented about the need to restore chain gangs and hangings as punishment, along with the number of pending charges and the number of not-guilty pleas that Lane had made.

"So help me, God, I've never made such statements," Harrison said during the lengthy inquiry.

The allegations were made in the morning session as the prosecution and defense were interviewing prospective alternate jurors. The process stalled when one panelist said all she knew about the case had come from comments in the jury pool room.

Judge Hooks immediately stopped the selection. Then one at a time, he interviewed the last two seated jurors and others in the room about the comments they had heard.

Several jurors said someone had spoken about a possible punishment for the defendant, bringing back the chain gang and hangings, and the number of charges pending and the number of charges that Lane had pleaded guilty to.

The last juror, Harrison, had been excused earlier in the day because of a hearing impairment and his knowledge of the case.

The judge delayed selection of alternates at least until Monday. He also ordered that the 12 seated jurors return today for interviews so that he could determine if the panel had been tainted by prejudicial comments.

When Harrison returned to court at about 2:15 p.m. under the threat of a subpoena, Hooks explained that the alleged comments violated his court order not to discuss the case. Then he read Harrison his Miranda warnings about his rights to have a lawyer and to remain silent.

"I don't understand why I need an attorney," Harrison said. "Who said this? I'm in total 'never-neverland.' I didn't make the comments."

Hooks then said he wanted to find out if Harrison were in contempt of court and asked again if the juror wanted a lawyer.

"Well, I reckon I better get one," Harrison snapped.

Hooks responded by warning Harrison not to disrespect the court.

Then Harrison was interviewed by Assistant Court Clerk Rita Pate to determine if he qualified for a court-appointed lawyer. He qualified, but he refused to sign the affidavit.

Again the juror said he did not know what the judge's inquiry was about. Hooks explained that several jurors suggested that Harrison had made those statements.

"The purpose is to get a fair and impartial jury to try the case," Hooks said. "I have to find out what was said and by whom."

"I have not made any statements to that effect," Harrison said.

"Do you want an attorney?" Hooks asked again.

"I'm between a rock and a hard place," Harrison said. "I don't know if I need an attorney or not. ƒ I've made no such statements concerning nobody."

But Harrison finally agreed to have a lawyer, and Will Bland was appointed.

When Harrison was led by Bailiff Dan Calhoun to a room to meet with Bland, the juror unleashed a profanity-laden tirade in the hallway.

After Harrison met with Bland and the prosecutors and defense lawyers conferred with Hooks, the judge questioned the juror.

A calmer Harrison admitted that the prospective jurors had talked together in small groups in the jury room. He said one woman knew Harrison's daughter who had died of cancer and left her husband, also named Lane, with young children to raise.

Then Hooks said a juror made comments attributed to an older man in the jury room that the chain gang should be brought back. The only other men in the room, he said, were in their 20s.

"So help me, God, I've never made such statements," Harrison said.

He also said he never heard anyone make those comments.

When Harrison was asked if anyone was in the jury room who was not a juror, he said a man had driven his wife because she could not drive and had an ear problem.

Then Hooks said a seated juror had testified that an older man stated that the defendant should be put to death.

"Did you say that?" the judge asked.

"I did not," Harrison replied. "I haven't heard anyone say that."

Hooks then asked Harrison if he had commented about the number of charges pending against Lane.

"I don't understand the long list of charges," Harrison said, "when the top one (first-degree murder) is the only one we're concerned with."

Then Hooks asked if Harrison had spoken about the not-guilty plea. He said he did not recall.

But Harrison added, "We're all bored to death back there. I didn't discuss anything about this case."

Then Harrison was asked again by Assistant District Attorney Jan Kroboth about the hanging comment. The juror said he had heard it at a country store.

"I've had no discussion with anyone concerning the case," Harrison said.

Hooks excused the juror, and Harrison left the courtroom.