11/10/04 — Judge considers moving Lane trial

View Archive

Judge considers moving Lane trial

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 10, 2004 2:04 PM

When a jury is assembled again to hear the murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane, the panel might come from another county or the trial might be moved from Goldsboro.

Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville suggested Tuesday to the state and the defense that each consider a change of place or an out-of-county jury pool because of the difficulty in seating a jury in Wayne County Superior Court.

Selection of 12 jurors took four weeks. Hooks removed the 12 seated jurors and the remaining unseated prospective jurors Monday because of alleged juror misconduct.

Three seated jurors admitted that they had heard a prospective juror comment about the appropriate punishment for Lane, the need to resume chain gangs and hangings, and the large number of offenses facing Lane and not-guilty pleas that he entered.

The man, Wayne Harrison, 71, of Pikeville, was to be served today with an order to show why he should not be held in contempt of court.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said Tuesday that he could accept a jury pool from another county.

Defense lawyer Edwin L. West III of Wilmington said he had researched the question of who has the authority to ask for a change of venue or an out-of-county jury pool. But he declined further comment until the court decides what to do with the 33-year-old Lane.

Lane again asked Monday to fire his lawyers, West and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville. He was taken Tuesday to Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh to be evaluated again in order to determine his competency to defend himself.

A hearing on Lane's request was scheduled for Tuesday in Wayne County Superior Court.

Lane was accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002 in his home on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. The little girl had been visiting family friends a few doors away.

Hooks held Tuesday's session to write and sign an order continuing the trial.

Vickory asked the court to conclude that one reason for the postponement was because an insufficient number of jurors remained to replace the three affected jurors and to seat at least two alternates. Only about 25 people had not been interviewed from a turnout of about 140. A total of 300 had been summoned for jury service.

West also asked to have a prospective juror's statement that Lane might not receive a fair trial in Wayne County included in the continuance order.

Hooks met with lawyer Will Bland, who was appointed to represent Harrison, and lawyer Don Strickland, who was appointed to prosecute the case against Harrison.

Near the end of the session, Lane again asked to be kept in the Wayne County Jail instead of Central Prison in Raleigh until the trial resumes.

Sheriff's Capt. James Tadlock, the jail administrator, said he recommended that Lane be returned to Central Prison in Raleigh. He said a jail unit had to be cleared to keep Lane segregated from the remaining inmates. He added that the 200-bed jail already had 241 inmates.

"I feel he wouldn't be safe," Tadlock said.

Hooks denied Lane's request and ordered him to be returned to Central Prison.

The judge also hinted that he might not want to hear a continuation of the trial.

West asked the judge to keep the case "because you heard the motion to suppress. ... It's in everyone's best interest. But I understand if Your Honor has had enough."

Hooks smiled at the last remark, and West added, "It's not in anyone's best interest for Your Honor not to be here."

The judge said he appreciated the comment and added, "You're very kind."

Hooks said the assignment of a judge would be addressed later.