08/11/05 — Lane appeal process starts slowly

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Lane appeal process starts slowly

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 11, 2005 1:50 PM

The appeal of Eric Glenn Lane, who was sentenced to die for the murder of 5-year-old Precious Ebony Whitfield, is starting slowly.

"It takes a while for the trial transcript to be typed, because it was such a long transcript," said District Attorney Branny Vickory, who prosecuted the case.

The court reporter, Nancy Braswell of Emerald Isle, must type every word spoken on the record in the court, Vickory said, even those during all pretrial hearings.

Lane was convicted July 8 in Wayne County Superior Court of raping, kidnapping and smothering the little girl to death on May 17, 2002, when she entered his home alone on Brandywine Drive in the Patetown community.

Immediately after the sentence was announced, Lane was taken to Central Prison in Raleigh and put in a red jumpsuit that death-row inmates wear.

Although Lane ordered his court-appointed lawyers not to put on a defense during the penalty phase of the trial, the jury's recommendation of death was appealed automatically to the N.C. Supreme Court.

The trial had three parts -- the original jury selection from Oct. 11 to Nov. 9, 2004, the new jury selection from May 23 to May 31 and then a third jury selection and trial that ended July 11.

The original jury selection was stopped by Judge D. Jack Hooks Jr. of Whiteville after more than four weeks because of juror misconduct and an insufficient number of people to fill vacant jury seats.

When the trial resumed in May, a jury was chosen, but Lane's motion to dismiss the panelists because of a flawed selection process was upheld by Judge Gary Trawick of Burgaw. Another jury was picked to hear the capital case.

Vickory said he was not sure if the appellate lawyer would want a transcript of the original jury selection. But he added that Judge Hooks made some important rulings. Among them was his decision to deny the defense motion to suppress Lane's confession.

Vickory said he was certain both parts of the second trial would be included in the transcript.

Once the transcript is completed, he said, then the appellate lawyers "have to wade through it. The lawyers may be unfamiliar with the case, and they have to digest it and prepare a record of the appeal." The appellate lawyers, he said, will allege errors were made in the trial.

Vickory said when the appellate lawyers finish, they will submit their findings and determine if the state omitted anything. The state Attorney General's Office will take over the appeal from Vickory's office.

When both sides had a chance to review the appeal, Vickory said, it will be filed with the state Supreme Court.

"That's why it takes a long time," he said.

In North Carolina, appeals of death sentences usually take at least 10 years before a defendant is executed.