11/07/04 — Lane trial takes another bizarre turn

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Lane trial takes another bizarre turn

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 7, 2004 2:08 AM

The first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane took another bizarre twist in Wayne County Superior Court on Friday.

One day after a prospective alternate juror was questioned about prejudicial comments in the jury room, the 33-year-old Lane spent most of Friday afternoon with only his lawyers and the presiding judge in the courtroom. The prosecutors and others, including the defendant's family, were ordered outside.

When Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville re-opened court, he explained only that Lane and his lawyers had "a disagreement regarding tactics" in their handling of the case.

"I wish I knew what was going on," District Attorney Branny Vickory said.

Lane is accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002, in his home on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. In addition to murder, he also is charged with first-degree kidnapping, first-degree statutory rape, first-degree sexual offense, taking indecent liberties with a child and a lewd and lascivious act. If convicted of first-degree murder, Lane would be sentenced by the jury to life in prison without parole or death.

Hooks said the trial that started Oct. 11 will resume Monday morning. But he said the 12 seated jurors and the remaining unseated jurors should call between noon and 1 p.m. Monday for further instructions.

Neither Hooks nor West would comment on what happened in the 2-hour, 30-minute closed-door session or what might happen Monday morning.

Lane also had tried to fire his court-appointed lawyers Oct. 1 during a pretrial hearing. Hooks then ordered the defendant evaluated by doctors at Dorothea Dix Hospital to determine if he were competent to defend himself. When the hearing continued five days later, Lane changed his mind later and kept his lawyers.

What made Friday's session more intriguing was the late-morning appearance of two lawyers from Wilson who specialize in defending murder suspects.

The afternoon session started with Lane asking to speak to Hooks alone. The judge denied the request but then allowed the defendant to confer with his lawyers in the courtroom over the state's objection.

When the lawyers, the judge and Lane took a mid-afternoon break, Vickory again objected, saying the issue was a lawyer-client matter.

The D.A. said Hooks told him: "You can go to your office, and we'll tell you when you can come back."

A few minutes later Vickory was invited back to the courtroom, but only so that the court session could be extended for another week.

Vickory said Hooks told him that he "felt my pain" and said the issue did not fall under attorney-client issues. Six minutes later, court was re-opened.

During the morning, Hooks interviewed the 12 seated jurors about the prejudicial remarks, including a possible punishment for the defendant, the need to restore chain gangs and hangings, the number of charges pending against Lane and his many not-guilty pleas.

Hooks said he was "trying to determine if anything had happened to compromise any juror's ability to be fair and impartial."

The last juror seated, a man, said an older man with white hair had made the comments.

"I ignored it," the juror said, "but I felt it was improper."

When West asked if the man were "grumpy," the juror answered affirmatively and also said he could be described as "very impatient."

The 11th juror seated, a woman, said she had heard comments by a prospective juror who had gone to church with Lane and his family. She also recalled a comment about a hanging.

Both jurors said the comments would not affect their ability to be fair and impartial.

Then Hooks brought back the other 10 seated jurors. They all said they had not heard the prejudicial comments.