07/07/05 — Lane decides not to testify

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Lane decides not to testify

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on July 7, 2005 1:45 PM

The defense ended its case Wednesday, with Eric Glenn Lane deciding not to testify in his first-degree murder trial in Wayne County Superior Court.

Lane, accused of kidnapping, raping and suffocating 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield to death more than three years ago, consulted with his lawyers for about 15 minutes before choosing not to testify.

When court opened after lunch, Lane asked Judge Gary Trawick of Burgaw if he could testify about everything that had happened from the day a detective came to the house until today. Trawick said he could testify to anything relevant to the case. But the judge cautioned Lane that the state could question him, too. Then Trawick advised Lane to meet with his lawyers again. When Lane and his lawyers returned, he announced his decision.

The remainder of the afternoon session was spent on a charge conference.

Defense lawyers Glenn Barfield of Goldsboro and Richard McNeil of Jacksonville asked that premeditated first-degree murder not be included in the charges. But their request was denied. Lane also could be convicted under the felony murder rule -- a murder committed during another serious crime.

Lane also will be tried on charges of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree child rape, first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a child and assault with a deadly weapon, the trash bag. A charge of a lewd and lascivious act was dismissed.

If Lane is convicted of first-degree murder, the same jury would decide his punishment, life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Today, the lawyers were expected to make closing arguments. The state, represented by District Attorney Branny Vickory and Assistant District Attorney Terry Light, will have the first and last arguments. The defense will have the middle two arguments.

The defense offered two expert witnesses Wednesday, but the jury heard only one, Dr. Fred Whitehurst, a forensic consultant in analytical chemistry, a lawyer and retired FBI agent.

Whitehurst disputed claims of Jim Gregory, a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, that the duct tape found on the tarpaulin and trash bag that contained the little girl's body matched a roll of tape recovered from Lane's home.

Whitehurst said duct tape became distorted and did not keep its original form -- like bread dough and bubble gum -- when it is separated. He said he looked at the duct tape under a microscope.

On cross examination, Whitehurst said, "I don't believe you can make a fracture match of the duct tape."

He also told Barfield that Gregory should not have had a problem taking a photo of the different pieces of tape and the original roll. Gregory testified Tuesday that it was difficult to do so.

When the other expert, Dr. Wilkie Wilson, a professor and medical researcher at Duke University, began to testify about the effects of alcohol on the brain, Vickory objected quickly, claiming the testimony was not relevant.

Judge Trawick asked the jury to leave, then heard Wilson's testimony and agreed that it was not valid.

Wilson told Vickory that Lane drank alcohol at a level so profoundly high that the defendant suffered an epileptic seizure in the Wayne County Jail. But Wilson also said there was no record of a seizure.

Wilson later said, "People who have a high level of alcohol use have blackouts." But he admitted that he did not know what was happening to Lane at the time of his confession because it was not on videotape.

Trawick then reminded the defense that Lane's voluntary confession was admitted into the court record.

Earlier, Jonathan Hope, a former Wayne County Jail officer, testified Lane might have had a seizure.

The day's other witness, Joan Lane, said her stepson was a special education student who was not good in spelling and reading. She said Lane was charged with driving while impaired at age 17, then his drinking got progressively worse and he did not work for his father for periods up to more than two months.

Mrs. Lane said that her stepson had a learning disability but was not mentally handicaped. She said he could find the auto racing section in the newspaper, could read blueprints and did well in math.