Attorneys Make Opening Statements In Wayne County Man's Murder Trial
Posted June 20, 2005 6:58 a.m. EDT
WAYNE COUNTY, N.C. — The second murder trial of a Wayne County man accused of raping and killing a 5-year-old girl began Monday.
Opening statements began in the case of Eric Lane, who is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and a first-degree sex offense in the death of Precious Whitfield, whose body was found in a creek in 2002.
The trial got off to an emotional start as family members from both sides came to the courtroom. Among them were Precious's mother, Michelle, and grandfather, the Rev. John Whitfield. Lane's parents also sat behind their son.
In opening statements, prosecutors told the jury how fishermen found the child's body in a river. They also described in great detail how they say Lane invited Precious in his home, sexually assaulted her and stuffed her into a trash bag.
At that point, most of the Whitfield family burst into tears and ran out of the courtroom.
Prosecutors said Lane confessed to the crime and gave investigators details, but Lane's attorneys said their client is innocent -- that he did invite Precious into his home, but did not rape or kill her.
Defense attorneys said investigators coerced a false confession from Lane, who they say has a low mental capacity and could not write or read the confession that he had signed.
Lane's attorneys also told the jury that he was an alcoholic and that he was intoxicated when he took a polygraph test.
Lane, who had undergone another mental evaluation Monday morning, showed no emotion during the trial, while the Whitfield family wiped away tears for most of the day.
Last year, Lane's original trial was delayed because of questions about his mental state. A judge later declared a mistrial because of juror misconduct.
Lane fired his previous attorneys last fall and previously represented himself until a month ago.
As jury selection began in May, the case hit another roadblock when the judge granted Lane's motion to start over with jury selection. Lane objected to how the names of the jurors had been called.
The judge in the trial told jurors Monday afternoon that they were not to discuss the case with anyone, even each other, until deliberations.
If convicted, Lane faces the death penalty.