04/10/05 — Lane to go on trial May 23 for murder of 5-year-old girl

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Lane to go on trial May 23 for murder of 5-year-old girl

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on April 10, 2005 2:02 AM

Eric Glenn Lane will go on trial May 23 in Wayne County Superior Court for the kidnap, rape and murder of 5-year-old Precious Whitfield in 2002.

The date was confirmed Friday by Judge Gary Trawick of Burgaw. The date had been proposed at a February pretrial hearing.

Trawick met with Lane's standby lawyers, Richard McNeil of Jacksonville and Glenn Barfield of Goldsboro, and two prosecutors, Assistant District Attorneys Jan Kroboth and Terry Light, for the purpose of reviewing preparations for the trial. Lane said he had met with one or both of his lawyers during the last two months.

The judge asked Lane if he still wanted to plead not guilty, and the defendant answered that he did.

Lane was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, taking indecent liberties with a child and a lewd and lascivious act. If he is convicted of first-degree murder, the jury would determine his punishment in the penalty phase -- a death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Trawick ordered a jury pool of 300 people. He said he will hear jury excuses and rule on pretrial motions May 23.

District Attorney Branny Vickory had gone to an elected D.A.'s conference and did not attend the brief hearing in Courtroom No. 5.

The original trial was recessed last November, four weeks into jury selection, because of juror misconduct and an insufficient number of jurors remaining from the 300-person panel. During the selection of alternate jurors, a prospective panelist was overheard talking about the case. The indiscretion was reported to the court. The juror later was found in contempt and fined $500.

Lane had wanted to fire his court-appointed lawyers in October before the trial started but then changed his mind a few days later. After the trial was stopped, he then asked to fire McNeil and Edwin L. West III of Wilmington. Judge D. Jack Hooks granted the request after mental health professionals had found Lane competent to defend himself.

Lane was charged with the crimes on May 17, 2002. The little girl had been visiting family friends a few doors from Lane's home on Brandywine Drive in Patetown. She and a few friends then went to Lane's home. The others left, investigators say, but Precious stayed behind.

The girl's body was found two days later by people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge. Lane was arrested the next day.