05/11/10 — Eric Lane seeks new trial

View Archive

Eric Lane seeks new trial

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on May 11, 2010 1:46 PM

Full Size

Eric Lane

The state Supreme Court is reviewing one of Wayne County's most infamous murder cases, in which a 5-year-old girl was found raped, murdered, wrapped in a trash bag and thrown into Nahunta Creek.

Eric Glenn Lane, now 38, was sentenced to the death penalty after a jury deliberated for less than an hour in July 2005, convicting Lane of the first-degree murder and rape of Precious Ebony Whitfield in May 2002.

Precious, 5, was a neighbor of Lane's, who was 33 at the time of the offense.

Attempts to reach Derrick Mertz, the attorney handling Lane's appeal, and Robert Montgomery of the North Carolina Attorney General's office, were unsuccessful.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said he could not comment on the specifics of the case, but did provide some insight as to what the Supreme Court might consider.

"The trial courts decide issues of fact, and in the appellate courts, it's basically decided whether or not there were any legal errors in the trial," Vickory said.

Because death row inmates often go through a number of appeals, and this is Lane's first attempt, a few things can be expected, the district attorney said.

"This is the first time it's gone through the appellate process, so they're going to be interested in areas of the law, whether or not the judge made any errors in the issues of law."

Vickory said the appeals process could take years.

In Lane's 2005 trial, Judge Gary Trawick sentenced Lane on charges of first-degree child rape, first-degree sexual offense, first-degree kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child, in addition to first-degree murder.

After Trawick imposed the death penalty, he reportedly told Lane, "May God have mercy on your soul."

Detective Mike Kabler, the lead detective in the case at the time, shared memories of the investigation that led to Lane's arrest.

Kabler said when deputies first began investigating, they found that the last time Precious had been seen alive was when she stopped to play with a young boy who lived on her street. It was around 6:30 p.m. on the day of the murder, May 17, 2002.

Coincidentally, the first house that detectives stopped at was Lane's.

"He had on a pink, long-sleeve shirt and a pair of blue jeans, and he had like red, glassy eyes a little bit, and a slight odor of alcohol on him," Kabler said.

A bowie knife sat on the counter, and Kabler noticed that a vacuum cleaner was sitting in the middle of the floor, as if someone had just finished cleaning.

Kabler said it struck him odd at the time that those two items were visible, because the rest of the house was extraordinarily tidy.

George Raecher, the now-retired captain of the Wayne County Drug Squad, was in charge of evidence at the time.

As interviews in the case started coming together, detectives learned from multiple witnesses that a man matching Lane's description had been seen near Nahunta Creek on the night that Precious went missing.

That led investigators on a search near the creek, one that took many hours before her body was found in a trash bag wrapped in a blue tarp.

Kabler said that the discovery of the child's body affected him deeply.

"It was definitely life-changing, as far as my career goes, some of the images that we saw," Kabler said. "My momma has told me, she says I'm harder than I used to be. I think it takes a lot to affect me.

"But seeing something like this, and (knowing) what a human being is capable of, this is as low as it gets. It changes your perspective."

Raecher said the case changed his life as well.

"There aren't too many days when I don't think about her," Raecher said. "I really think in my mind that the Lord took her out of her pain during the worst part of the act, I would hope. She endured some horrific pain."

In the original trial, Vickory argued that the circumstances of the case placed it in the category of "aggravated," which would make the death penalty appropriate. He said that the aggravating circumstances in the murder -- that it was premeditated, and involved a sexual offense and an "especially heinous" murder and rape of a child -- outweighed other factors, including a learning disability that Lane was diagnosed with.