06/28/05 — Murder confession entered into evidence

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Murder confession entered into evidence

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 28, 2005 1:45 PM

When Eric Lane went looking for a place to put 5-year-old Precious Whitfield's body, all he could find was a white trash bag from his kitchen, according to his confession.

The written confession, which the defense claims was coerced, described the details of the child's death. It was entered into evidence Monday as testimony in the murder trial continued in Wayne Superior Court.

Eric Lane


Lane, 34, is accused in connection with the 2002 kidnap, rape and murder. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Defense attorneys Glenn Barfield and Richard McNeil say their client is innocent, and that the confession was coerced by state law enforcement officials.

Capt. George Raecher of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office spent most of the day on the witness stand identifying evidence he collected at the spot where the girl's body was found and at Lane's mobile home and outbuildings on Brandywine Drive.

As the day wore on, the brown bags of evidence mounted on the witness stand around Raecher. Inside were the girl's clothes and shoes and the white plastic bag in which her body was found.

According to Lane's confession, he pulled the bag out of a trash can in his kitchen. Also inside were bits of laundry lint and a beer bottlecap.

State Bureau of Investigation agent Joe Smith testified late in the afternoon.

Smith read aloud for the court the confession given to him by Lane. In it, Lane told Smith that Precious and a 7-year-old boy from the neighborhood had come to play on a swing set in his yard. Lane said he had been drinking. He said that the two children came inside to look at the goldfish and eels he had in a tank, and that he gave Precious some Pepsi to drink. Then the children left.

Lane said Precious returned to his house about 15 minutes later. She wanted to see the fish and eels again.

He was still drinking.

Soon he began tickling her, and she was laughing, he said. They fell on the carpet playing, while he was tickling her between her legs. The next thing he said he remembered was waking up half-clothed on top of her.

"I shook her, trying to get her to wake up," Smith read from the confession.

Lane then described how he wrapped the body in a blue tarp, secured it with duct tape and took it, along with her bike, to a creek about four miles away, Smith said.

Lane said he thought she was dead when he put the tarp over her, and believed that he had suffocated her with his body.

Relatives of the slain girl sat quietly through Smith's testimony. Tears rolled down the face of Michelle Whitfield, the girl's mother, as she listened to the details of her daughter's death. After Smith finished reading the confession, Ms. Whitfield and two other family members left the courtroom for a few minutes.

Defense lawyers told Superior Court Judge Gary Trawick, with jurors out of the room, that Lane only confessed to the crime because the SBI agent told him he had failed a polygraph test.

Because of that, the lawyers told the judge they intended to probe the pre-polygraph questions and Lane's condition during questioning.

Trawick said he wouldn't allow the defense lawyers to question the polygraph procedure.

"I'm not going to try the polygraph test," Trawick said.

McNeil said they wanted the results of the polygraph test admitted as evidence.

"He was told he failed," McNeil said. "That led him to believe he committed a crime that he didn't commit."

District Attorney Branny Vickory objected to the polygraph test being admitted, saying it was against state law.

"The law states that the results are inadmissible, even when parties stipulate to the results," Vickory said. "My feeling is that referring to the results of the test is improper and should be inadmissible."

Trawick said he had never encountered a situation in which the results of a polygraph test were the basis for the defense.

"To not let him say that could be denying him his rights," Trawick said.

The judge was to hear further arguments today from the lawyers about whether the polygraph results should be admitted.