06/21/05 — Testimony begins in murder trial

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Testimony begins in murder trial

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on June 21, 2005 1:45 PM

Family and friends of Precious Whitfield testified Monday in the first-degree murder trial of Eric Lane in Wayne County Superior Court.

Lane is on trial for the 5-year-old girl's murder three years ago. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Gladys Johnson, the girl's step-grandmother, Travion McQuirter, the girl's nephew, Shannon Buchanan, a neighbor, and her son, Michael Davis, were the first witnesses to testify. All lived on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community, a few doors from Lane.

The people who discovered the 5-year-old girl's body in a trash bag and law-enforcement officers who investigated the crime were expected to testify today.

On Monday, Ms. Johnson testified that Precious visited her home almost daily. When she came home from work on May 17, 2002, Mrs. Johnson asked the girl's nephews where she was. The boys started looking for her, but without success. She called 911 but was told the girl's mother had to report her missing. Her disappearance was not reported until the next morning.

McQuirter, now 15, said he last saw Precious walking down Brandywine Drive and that after she did not return after a few hours, he went to look for her. He said he saw a white van moving slowly down the street and a saw glimmer of light from Lane's mobile home.

Mrs. Buchanan said Precious had knocked on her door that afternoon and the girl and her son had played outside and rode bikes. She eventually told the girl that she had to leave to attend a wedding rehearsal and that she should go home.

When Mrs. Buchanan returned three hours later, McQuirter told her what had happened.

Davis, now 10, described Precious as "my best friend." He said the two had played on Lane's swing set and that Lane had asked them if they wanted to see the eels in his aquarium. He said they went inside his mobile home but came back outside. Precious then went back inside, Davis said.

Assistant District Attorney Terry Light said in her opening statement that Lane raped and then suffocated the girl in a plastic bag he had bound with duct tape.

"The evidence will show the little girl took her last breath in a trash bag," Ms. Light said.

Then, she said, Lane put the girl's body in his shed and then carried her and her bike on the back of his scooter to the Airport Road bridge over Nahunta Creek.

Several people in the courtroom broke down and left during the prosecutor's description of the evidence the state will present.

Defense lawyer Glenn Barfield agreed that the crime was as despicable as Ms. Light described it. But he said someone else killed the girl because Lane was passed out drunk in his home at the time. Barfield said Lane drank to excess almost every day.

Barfield said Lane could not read and write and could not understand the confession that he had signed. He scoffed at DNA evidence pointing to Lane as the killer, saying Lane's hairs found on the girl's body could have come from her being pushed on swings near his home. Barfield said the trash bag and blue tarp that covered her body could be found anywhere.

Barfield called Lane a "perfect target" for investigators but he said Lane is innocent.

"The evidence will show a pedophile committed the crime, and that's not Eric Lane," Barfield said.

Lane went on trial in November but a mistrial was declared because of juror misconduct. Jury selection in the second trial had to start a second time after the jury selection process was compromised.