11/22/04 — Lane wants to fire lawyers, defend himself

View Archive

Lane wants to fire lawyers, defend himself

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 22, 2004 2:11 PM

Eric Glenn Lane, accused of murdering a 5-year-old girl, will return to court Tuesday to find out if he can defend himself.

For the second time, the 33-year-old Lane asked to fire his court-appointed lawyers, Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville.

"I've been trying to get rid of this man for a while," Lane said as he motioned toward West on Nov. 9, when the trial was recessed.

Judge D. Jack Hooks of Whiteville ordered that Lane be evaluated again at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh to determine if he is competent to defend himself.

Mental-health professionals are expected to testify again Tuesday in Wayne County Superior Court for the state and the defense.

Lane is accused of killing Precious Ebony Whitfield on May 17, 2002, at his home on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. She had been visiting family friends a few doors away.

In addition to murder, Lane was charged with first-degree kidnapping, first-degree statutory rape, first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a minor and a lewd and lascivious act. If he is convicted of first-degree murder, then the jury would decide his punishment -- life in prison without parole or death.

Lane asked Oct. 1 to fire his lawyers during a pretrial hearing. Hooks then ordered that Lane be evaluated by mental-health professionals at Dorothea Dix Hospital and by the defense's hand-picked experts to determine his competency to defend himself.

Five days later, when the hearing resumed, Lane told the judge that he had changed his mind and would keep the lawyers.

The pretrial hearing had been held on a defense motion to suppress Lane's statements to authorities after his arrest. The motion was denied.

The jury selection for the trial started Oct. 11, but it was stopped four weeks later because of alleged juror misconduct and the lack of replacement jurors from the remaining pool.

Twelve jurors had been seated. When a prospective alternate juror was questioned about her knowledge of the case, she said she did not live in Wayne County when the crime was committed. But she said she had heard about it from another prospective juror, an older man, in the jury pool room.

The juror also said the man had said death was the appropriate sentence, hangings and chain gangs should be brought back and Lane had faced numerous charges to which he had pleaded not guilty.

Judge Hooks stopped juror selection and then interviewed the 12 seated jurors. The last two jurors said they had heard the man's comments. Another seated juror said he had heard a prospective panelist, a state Transportation Department employee, say he had helped clean up a memorial where the little girl's body was found near the Airport Road bridge over Nahunta Creek.

Hooks then disbanded the jury.

Later the judge ordered Wayne Harrison, 71, of Pikeville to show why he should not be held in contempt for allegedly violating the judge's order not to discuss the case. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29.