Convicted child killer seeks new trial
Posted May 10, 2010
Raleigh, N.C. — A Wayne County man's mental problems contributed to his being sentenced to die for the 2002 slaying of a 5-year-old girl, an attorney argued to the state Supreme Court on Monday.
Ann Petersen said Eric Glenn Lane, 38, should be given a new trial because he never should have been allowed to represent himself during his murder trial five years ago. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the case within three months.
Lane was convicted in July 2005 of kidnapping and killing his neighbor, Precious Whitfield, in May 2002. The young girl was last seen riding her bike outside her grandmother's house, and her body and the bike were found two days later in a creek about seven miles away.
Jurors deliberated only 50 minutes before handing down the death sentence. Lane didn't present any evidence on his behalf during the sentencing phase of the trial.
Petersen said such a legal blunder was an example of why the trial judge erred in letting Lane represent himself at trial. The eighth-grade dropout couldn't read or write, which precluded him from reviewing evidence in the case, and he had short-term memory problems, which made it difficult to cross-examine witnesses, she argued.
Lane also suffers from a personality disorder and an anxiety disorder, she said.
"He was not acting with a reasonable degree of rational thinking," she said.
Assistant Attorney General Derrick Mertz said the judge applied the correct standard in finding Lane competent to represent himself.
Lane had lived on his own for 16 years, held down a job, got married and cared for a child, Mertz said, noting such activities show Lane had a degree of intelligence. Lane also told the trial judge and prosecutors that he wanted to represent himself because he disagreed with the way his attorneys planned to handle his case, Mertz said.
"The court itself had interacted with the defendant for months and had before it ample evidence the defendant was capable of proceeding," he said.
Petersen responded that Lane might have had the skills to handle daily life, but he didn't have the skills needed to handle a capital murder trial.
"He couldn't take notes. He couldn't listen to testimony of a witness and remember what that witness said so he could cross-examine them. He couldn't read discovery. He couldn't do anything," she said.