07/08/05 — Lane found guilty

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Lane found guilty

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on July 8, 2005 1:45 PM

Guilty on all charges.

Eric Glenn Lane was convicted today of the first-degree murder of 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield more than three years ago.

A Wayne County Superior Court jury of 10 women and two men returned the verdict after deliberating for about three hours over two days. The verdict will be appealed automatically.

The same jury will decide the punishment for the 33-year-old electrician who had worked in his father’s business. The only options are life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Lane showed no emotion when the verdict was announced, looking straight ahead. But some audience members, including the victim’s relatives and neighbors, wept silently.

Lane was convicted of a premeditated first-degree murder and murder under the felony murder rule, a murder committed during the commission of another serious crime.

Lane also was convicted of first-degree child rape, first-degree sexual offense, first-degree kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child. A charge of a lewd and lascivious act had been dismissed.

Deputy Court Clerk Audie Dale read the verdict and then polled the jury. All 12 said they agreed with the verdict.

After the jury left, Precious’ family hugged sheriff’s officers and other audience members.

Judge Gary Trawick said the penalty phase will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Near the end of Thursday’s session, the jury asked for a transcript of the testimony of Shawn Weiss, the state’s DNA expert who had said a half-inch hair found on Precious’ body had DNA evidence from both the girl and Lane. Weiss said the hair came from a white person.

The court reporter prepared a copy of that portion of the transcript, and the jury received it today.

Moments later, the jury asked to see photos that were displayed on tables, including one of the little girl before the medical examiner’s autopsy.

Lane was accused of raping, kidnapping and suffocating the 48-pound girl to death on May 17, 2002.

Precious had played with a neighborhood boy on Lane’s back yard swing set earlier that day, and they went inside to see his eels and goldfish in an aquarium. The boy had to leave so that his mother could attend a wedding rehearsal, but Precious went back inside at about 6:30 p.m.

The boy and his mother returned to court today to see the verdict.

Precious was not reported missing until about 12 hours later, the next morning. The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office began an immediate search without success. Her body was found the next afternoon, May 19, by three people fishing from the Airport Road bridge into Nahunta Creek.

Before the jury got the capital case, the state’s prosecutors and a defense lawyer presented closing arguments.

District Attorney Branny Vickory and Assistant District Attorney Terry Light said in their closing arguments the evidence pointed only to Lane.

Vickory argued Lane could not have passed out or blacked out from alcohol on the night the little girl was killed. He argued that based on telephone information, Lane called his father at 8:23 p.m., less than two hours after the girl disappeared.

Vickory reviewed the state’s evidence and noted that not only did the white trash bag, the blue tarpaulin, blue fibers on her clothes, Lane’s clothes, his rug and the trash bag, the hairs found on his rug and the hair found on her body incriminate him. He also said Lane’s confession made him guilty.

Vickory also said Lane told Special Agent Joe Smith about the route he had taken from his home on Brandywine Drive to the Airport Road bridge over Nahunta Creek, where Precious’ body was found two days after she disappeared.

The district attorney also scoffed at the defense contention that the hair on Precious’ body came as Lane pushed her on his back yard swing. Vickory noted Lane had come to court each day with his shirt unbuttoned almost to his waist, showing his chest hair, but had the shirt buttoned up Thursday.

Defense lawyer Glenn Barfield said the state’s case was based on “trust me because we don’t trust you the jury.”

Barfield said the confession was forced from an alcoholic man with limited intelligence who could barely read and write. He said detectives “relentlessly interrogated” him five times.

Barfield speculated someone else committed the crimes. He noted two witnesses said they might have seen a black man at the bridge.

Ms. Light opened the arguments by saying the only thing worse than the murder was to let the murderer walk out of the courtroom a free man.

“We want you to hold the right person accountable,” Ms. Light said.

On top of all of the evidence, Ms. Light said, was Lane’s confession.

“Precious Whitfield did not deserve to die,” she concluded. “Let her have justice through your guilty verdict.”