06/30/05 — Medical examiner testifies on child's last hours

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Medical examiner testifies on child's last hours

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 30, 2005 1:45 PM

An assistant state medical examiner described details surrounding Precious Whitfield's death Wednes-day as testimony continued in the Eric Lane murder trial in Wayne County Superior Court.

Dr. Kenneth Snell discussed the results of the autopsy, which was conducted by the state Medical Examiner's Office.

Lane, 34, is accused of raping, then killing, the 5-year-old girl. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Snell said blood inside the girl's body showed she was alive when she was assaulted.

Her mother, Michelle Whitfield, left the courtroom before the medical examiner began his testimony.

The girl was last seen alive around 6 p.m. May 17, 2002. Her body was discovered two days later at the edge of the water, under a bridge.

Snell said the girl was wrapped inside a white trash bag, with gray duct tape binding the bag closed.

She was less than 4-feet tall, and weighed 45 pounds.

Besides cuts to her lips, there was also a mild swelling of the brain.

"That indicates a lack of blood flow," Snell testified.

The medical examiner also found a single hair, which was sent for DNA testing.

The bags of evidence containing the clothes Precious was wearing when she died were opened, and shown to the jury.

Defense attorneys Glenn Barfield and Richard McNeil objected when the prosecution tried to introduce the autopsy photos into evidence.

Since it was after 4 p.m., the jury was sent home while the subject was discussed.

"This is the first time this evidence has been out of the bags, and we need to look at it," Barfield said.

Barfield expressed concern at the number of photographs that had been taken during the autopsy, saying he wasn't sure all of them needed to be shown.

But after questioning the medical examiner, Barfield said he had no objections to the photos.

Defense attorneys spent most of the day cross-examining Wayne County Sheriff's Office Detective Mike Kabler about the confession he got from Lane.

The defense wanted to know Kabler's educational background and special training classes he had received, and asked if law enforcement officers had followed leads that might have pointed to other suspects.

Kabler said no, because developments within a couple of days after Precious's body was discovered led to Lane's arrest.

McNeil also asked if any pornographic material had been found at Lane's residence, and Kabler said no.

"When we're talking about sexual assault on a child, it's not unusual for people to have pornography magazines, is it?" McNeil said.

Kabler replied that it was not.

McNeil also questioned Kabler's note-taking during the investigation.

In particular, McNeil pointed out what he thought were discrepancies between Kabler's field notes and his summary report.

The defense team said discovery laws had changed since the 2002 murder, and wanted to explore the effect that change had on this case.

Out of the presence of the jury, defense attorney Glenn Barfield told the judge that at the time the notes were taken, the officer would "never have expected them to be seen by the defense."

District attorney Branny Vickory disagreed, saying that it had always been the practice of his office to make the notes available.

Superior Court Judge Gary Trawick didn't agree with the defense's attempt to probe the effects of the discovery law on the note-taking. But, at one point during Vickory's re-direct, the judge sent the jury out of the room to caution the district attorney.

"You're making statements and leading questions," Trawick said. "If you go much further, the court will declare you as a witness, and you will have to withdraw from the case."

The testimony of the medical examiner continued today.