COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — More than two years after police deployed a SWAT team to Kareem Lane’s mobile home in Alabama to arrest him for murder, a hung jury rejected DNA evidence at the heart of prosecutors’ case and cleared the way for Lane to be released from jail.
But there’s no guarantee 37-year-old Lane will remain free for long. A Muscogee County Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Wednesday after jurors deliberated the murder case for three days. Now prosecutors have to decide whether to put the former U.S. Marine from Pell City, Ala., on trial a second time.
"I hate for any of us to have to go through this again," Carol Lane, the defendant’s wife, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (http://bit.ly/RyvlIj). "I definitely hate it for my husband to go through this again, but I can truly say I admire his strength, because he’s known all along he had the truth on his side, and . he would do whatever he needed to do to completely clear his name."
Lane became a suspect almost immediately in the Oct. 19, 1992, slaying of local school superintendent Jim Burns, who was stabbed to death in the bedroom of his home. Police pulled over Lane, then a 17-year-old high school student, driving a pickup truck that matched a witness’ description one spotted near Burns’ home. And empty knife sheath was found inside Lane’s truck.
However, Lane was let go for nearly two decades until his arrest on murder charges in 2010, after authorities said they had DNA evidence that linked him to the murder weapon.
That forensic evidence fell apart in the courtroom last week and was largely blamed for causing prosecutors’ case to unravel. Experts testifying for the prosecution told jurors DNA tests on the knife used to ill Burns didn’t implicate Lane, but only showed he couldn’t be excluded as a suspect.
When the judge declared a mistrial, 10 jurors were pushing for acquittal and only two supported a conviction."
"I voted the way I did because the DA did not give us enough substantial evidence. The DA did not prove their case to me," said juror Bernice Peterson. "We all were sad about it. We all took this emotionally for the Burns family and Kareem Lane."
Assistant District Attorney LaRae Dixon Moore said prosecutors made their best effort. And while she referred to police missteps in courtroom statements to the jury, Moore denied that the prosecution’s case hinged on the DNA evidence.
"Our position the entire time was that there was certainly sufficient evidence for him to have been arrested back in 1992," Moore said. "We never felt like this case was solely a DNA case."
Lane’s defense attorney, Stacey Jackson, has asked the judge to reduce his bond from $750,000 and allow him to be released from jail with a leg monitor.
Jackson, a former prosecutor, said the jury’s lopsided split could make it tough for the district attorney to justify putting Lane on trial again.
"It would cause me some concern trying a case again where 10 people have said he didn’t do it," Jackson said.
Burns’ family issued a statement saying they were "very disappointed with the jury results." The slain superintendent’s widow, Stella Burns Butler, had to relive the killing during the trial as she testified about the night a shadowy killer came into her home and stabbed her husband.
The defendant’s wife said she feels badly for Burns’ family, but insisted she and her husband have suffered greatly for a crime he didn’t commit. Lane’s arrest cost him his job, caused the couple to lose their home and destroyed his reputation, Carol Lane said.
"It pretty much turned our entire lives upside down," she said.
Information from: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.