Lane murder trial starts over today
By Jack Stephens
Published in News on May 23, 2005 1:54 PM
Eric Glenn Lane will go on trial again today in Wayne County Superior Court for the kidnap, rape and murder of 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield in 2002.
Lane's original trial was stopped last November -- and a mistrial was declared -- because of juror misconduct and an insufficient number of remaining jurors.
The 33-year-old Lane, who lived on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community, told the court in February that he was "ready to get it over with."
Lane, who dropped out of school after the eighth grade, had fired his court-appointed lawyers at the end of the original trial and will represent himself.
Two standby lawyers were appointed to assist Lane. They were Richard McNeil of Jacksonville, who was one of his two original lawyers, and Glenn Barfield of Goldsboro. The lawyers will sit in the first bench in the audience behind the defendant.
Lane had pleaded not guilty to all five felony charges -- first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, indecent liberties with a child and a lewd and lascivious act.
If Lane is convicted of first-degree murder, then the same jury will decide his punishment -- life in prison without parole or death.
Lane lived a few doors from where Precious was visiting family friends on May 17, 2002. The little girl and a few other children had gone to his home. The others left, but she stayed.
Lane was accused of abducting Precious, then raping her and murdering her. Her body was found two days later by people fishing in Nahunta Creek near the Airport Road bridge.
Sheriff Carey Winders had said a neighborhood canvass and interviews helped his officers develop Lane as a suspect. Lane was questioned, later arrested and charged on May 21.
The new presiding judge, Gary Trawick of Burgaw, will hear juror excuses and pretrial motions today. A total of 300 people were summoned for jury service. A few have been excused, and almost 100 were not found, Deputy Court Clerk Karrie R. Minchew said.
District Attorney Branny Vickory has said the state's case will take about two weeks to present. He will be assisted by Terry Light.
Among the evidence that the state is expected to present is Lane's confession to officers about his role in the death. The defendant's original lawyers, Edwin L. West III of Wilmington and McNeil, had tried to have the confession excluded from the state's evidence. After hearing testimony from officers and arguments from the lawyers, the first judge, D. Jack Hooks Jr. of Whiteville, ruled that the statement was admissible.
Lane had considered firing his lawyers before the original trial started Oct. 11 but changed his mind.
The trial was scuttled after 12 jurors had been picked and the selection of alternates had started. When one possible alternate was asked if she knew anything about the case, she replied that she was not living here when the crime was committed and knew only what she had heard in the jury room.
Hooks began an immediate investigation and learned that two seated jurors also had heard the comments. The man who made the comments later was charged with contempt of court for violating the judge's order not to discuss the case. He was fined $500 and ordered to write an apology.
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