12/22/04 — Juror writes letter, pays fine, for causing problems in the Eric Lane trial

View Archive

Juror writes letter, pays fine, for causing problems in the Eric Lane trial

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on December 22, 2004 2:01 PM

Wayne C. Harrison, 71, of Pikeville was fined $500 and ordered by the court to write a letter of apology for his actions during the Eric Lane murder trial.

Harrison, a prospective juror in the trial, had spoken to other jurors and potential jurors about the case, against the judge's orders. When the judge found out, he disbanded the jury and delayed the trial.

Harrison wrote the letter to the people of Wayne County; the jurors in the case; the court clerk and his assistant clerks and deputy clerks; the bailiffs; Lane and his lawyers, Edwin L. West III and Richard McNeil; District Attorney Branny Vickory and his assistants Jan Kroboth and Terry Light and his staff; special prosecutor Don Strickland; and Superior Court Judges Jack Hooks and Kenneth Crow.

Here is the letter:

"I write to express my regret regarding recent events and to apologize for any harm caused.

"Late last summer, I received a summons for jury service in Wayne County. Certainly, jury service was not something I wanted to do, but it is a sacred civic duty, one that I had performed four times before in Wayne and Lenoir counties. So, on October 11, I reported to serve as required. As it turned out, I became part of a large pool from which jurors were to be selected for the trial of the State of North Carolina vs. Eric Glenn Lane. This was a capital murder trial. Serious business.

"The Judge in the case informed us of several charges that had been brought against the defendant, read us an instruction about how we might -- literally -- have to make a life or death decision and, finally, ordered each prospective juror not to talk about the case. Failure to comply with the Judge's order could result in contempt of court, the judge explained.

"After receiving the Judge's instructions, the jury pool was separated into panels. Each evening, we called into the Clerk's office to find out if our panel should report to the courthouse.

"My panel was called to return on Election Day, Tuesday, November 2. Gradually, over the next two and a half days, members of our panel were interviewed by the lawyers and either selected for jury service or released. I was interviewed and released November 4.

"At some point during these two and a half days, I made comments in a conversation that led to an investigation by the Court, after which the Judge decided to disband the jury and continue the case. Four weeks of the Judge's, the lawyers', the defendant's, the clerk's, the bailiffs' and other court personnel's time and energy was lost. For this loss -- at tremendous cost in effort and money -- I am truly sorry. I deeply regret the loss in time and other costs expended by my fellow jurors -- each of whom had left his or her ordinary life behind when civic duty called; to each of my fellow jurors, I say I am truly sorry. To the State or North Carolina and the citizens of Wayne County, I give my heartfelt apology.

"While I sat in the jury room waiting, I had to wonder: What on earth are they doing in the courtroom while we just sit here? Later, however, after I was issued a 'show cause' order directing me to explain why I should not be held in contempt of court, I was able to see at least some of the inner working of the court system, from the unique viewpoint of the defendant's seat.

"From these dramatically different perspectives of juror and defendant, I have learned many things.

"1. The right to be heard by a jury or a judge who is as free as possible from outside influences is critical to a fair trial. When I made the transition from a potential juror in the capital trial to being a defendant in my own hearing, I quickly realized the importance of beginning a trial with as few preconceived ideas as possible.

"I discovered that, as much as anything, it was for my protection that the judge in the Eric Lane trial set my hearing before another judge, free from the intensity of four weeks of a capital trial. I am grateful that our justice system provided me an opportunity to present my case. I thank Judge Ken Crow and Special Prosecutor Col. Strickland for conducting what I believe was a fair hearing.

"In order for a defendant to have the privilege of an impartial jury, the rest of us must be willing to serve occasionally as jurors.

"2. Not just in cases as serious as a capital trial but really in any case (which surely is important to that defendant, jurors must make certain they follow every instruction given by the Judge to the letter, including the obligation to report any condition that seems contrary to the rules set out by the Judge.

"3. Jury service is a small price to pay for the right of a trial by jury. I have been called for jury service five times now, including three times when I actually heard the case and rendered a verdict. Jury service was never 'convenient.' Understanding now, more than ever, the importance of the right to a fair trial -- to each of us, not just of the accused -- I encourage anyone summoned as a jury to serve gladly, proudly, and if I might suggest, quietly.

"Our system is not perfect, but we, myself especially, must try our very best to make it work for all of us. Where I have failed to do this, I have the deepest regret and apologize to all for any and all consequences. Thank you for this opportunity to express my remorse. I hope that in some way, future juries may be strengthened by this experience to administer justice with ever more fairness and impartially."