06/22/05 — Witnesses in Lane trial describe scene

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Witnesses in Lane trial describe scene

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on June 22, 2005 1:45 PM

Witnesses in the first-degree murder trial of Eric Lane said they saw an unidentified man at the Airport Road bridge over Nahunta Creek on the evening that 5-year-old Precious Whitfield was reported missing.

The girl's body was found in the creek.

Lane is charged with raping and killing her in May 2002. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Deborah Sullivan testified Tuesday that she saw a man on a moped with a bicycle strapped to his back near the bridge on the evening of May 17, 2002.

"I've seen puppies in the basket" of a moped, Mrs. Sullivan said, "but I've never seen anyone with a bicycle strapped on the back. It caught my attention for some reason."

She said the man on the moped was white and the girl's bike was reddish or purple.

Robert Pugh said he drove across the bridge about 7:30 p.m. and saw a moped on the ground near the creek. He said he saw a man with a white helmet carrying a bundle down the embankment toward the creek.

"I thought he had dumped something into the creek," Pugh said.

When he returned home later that night from his movie date, Pugh said his mother told him that a little girl was missing.

Sam Sasser testified that while he was driving home that evening he saw a man on the left side of the bridge backing a moped up the bank. Sasser said he could not identify the man's race but said he was wearing a helmet.

The man who found the girl's body, Leroy Murchison, testified that he was fishing near the bridge with two nephews May 19. He said that one of the boys, Chris Murchison, went to the other side of the creek and saw something resembling a rubber doll in the water. Leroy Murchison said all three went in the creek and that Chris grabbed a shoe and pulled it and a sock off the body.

"I touched the foot, and it was real," Leroy Murchison said.

They called 911 and waited until sheriff's deputies arrived.

Another man who had ridden across the bridge had seen the Murchisons fishing at the creek that day. Michael Hamilton of Rosewood testified that he said there was a doll or something at the bottom of the creek. He left his truck and discovered "a little girl wrapped up in a trash bag." He left after 911 was called.

That Hamilton had witnessed the discovery of the body was not known by authorities until more than two years later, until just before the original trial started last year. The trial ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct.

Sheriff's Capt. George Raecher, the crime-scene technician, testified about his role in the investigation, cataloging evidence and taking photographs at the bridge.

Raecher said the girl's face was wrapped in duct tape and her legs were wrapped in duct tape and pulled to her chest. He said there was blood on her body. A bicycle she had borrowed from friends also was recovered from the creek.

Raecher said Lane was developed as a suspect by detectives because of information gleaned from interviews with neighbors. He noted that Sasser had seen someone with a red moped and neighbors knew Lane had one. Lane's barn was searched and a red moped was found. The defendant was interviewed later.

Detectives also took the most direct route from the bridge to Brandywine Drive, where Lane lived and where Precious was visiting friends when she disappeared. Along the way they found a blue tarpaulin, similar to what had been wrapped around the girl.

The day's first witness, 10-year-old Michael Davis, concluded his testimony from Monday, saying he saw Precious ride away from his home for the last time. He said he had played in Lane's yard once before.