06/01/05 — Lane trial gets jury restart ... again

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Lane trial gets jury restart ... again

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on June 1, 2005 1:53 PM

The first-degree murder trial of Eric Glenn Lane took another twist Tuesday afternoon in Wayne County Superior Court.

The trial was stopped abruptly after 12 jurors had been seated, and a new jury selection was ordered because of a legal technicality.

Lane, a 33-year-old electrician who is representing himself, said that a list of jurors that he, his standby lawyers and prosecutors had received from courtroom clerks violated state law.

Judge Gary Trawick of Burgaw upheld Lane's motion and ordered that the 12 jurors be removed and that jury selection start again today.

Lane, his standby lawyers and prosecutors automatically receive an alphabetical list of jurors. But court clerks Audie Dale and Kerry R. Minchew also had provided lists of the three panels of jurors in the order in which each juror would be called the jury box for questioning by the prosecutors and Lane. Trawick said the clerks had inadvertently furnished the lists in violation of state law.

The ruling left District Attorney Branny Vickory more than frustrated.

"It's tough on everybody," he said. "It's very difficult on the victim's family, too, because they are coming from out of town."

Vickory said the judge and the defense knew about the list because Trawick and one of his standby lawyers, Richard McNeil of Jacksonville, were checking off the names just as the prosecutors were.

"If Lane had not objected, it would not have been a prejudicial error," Vickory said. "But because it happened before the jury was empaneled, we were stuck with it."

Lane is being tried for the kidnap, rape and murder of 5-year-old Precious Whitfield on May 17, 2002.

Lane's original trial ended Nov. 9, 2004, in a mistrial because of juror misconduct after more than four weeks of jury selection.

Trawick's ruling followed a lengthy meeting among Vickory, Assistant D.A. Terry Light, standby lawyers McNeil and Glenn Barfield of Goldsboro and the judge.

Trawick ordered that jury selection would start again with those who had been summoned for this week's court term. He also ordered that 400 new jurors be summoned next week -- 200 on Monday and 200 on Wednesday.

Because the trial will take several weeks, Barfield mentioned potential scheduling conflicts later in June. But Trawick responded, "I don't think anything is more important than this man's case, and that he gets a fair trial." Trawick also noted that a statewide judges' conference was scheduled in late June.

Earlier Tuesday, the 12th juror, a man, was seated. Several potential alternates were questioned but all were excused, either by Lane or the judge.

Lane's original trial was stopped after Judge D. Jack Hooks Jr. of Whiteville ruled that three jurors had heard prejudicial comments in the jury pool room. After 12 jurors were seated, a possible alternate juror said the only thing she knew about the case was what she heard in the jury pool room. Two seated jurors admitted that they had heard some of the comments.

The man who made the comments was charged with indirect contempt of court for violating Hooks' order not to talk about the case. He was convicted and fined $500.

Lane is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense, indecent liberties with a child and a lewd and lascivious act.

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