District attorney will retry Kareem Lane for murder this summer

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 8, 2014 

Kareem Lane, who was freed on bond after a September 2012 mistrial in the 1992 death of then-Muscogee County School Superintendent Jim Burns, will face a retrial this summer, the district attorney’s office said Wednesday during a hearing.

Assistant District Attorney LaRae Dixon Moore made the announcement during a 1 p.m. hearing in Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters’ courtroom. At Moore’s side were District Attorney Julia Slater and Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley.

Jury selection will start on Aug. 19 and the trial gets underway on Aug. 25, Peters said. Because he has a conflict in his schedule, Peters said another judge may have to retry the case. A decision will be made later on the presiding judge.

Lane, a 17-year-old Shaw High School student at the time, is accused of sneaking into Burns’ Broadway home and fatally stabbing him on Oct. 19, 1992. Police recovered an empty knife sheath in Lane’s pickup that prosecutors said fits the murder weapon.

Lane was questioned hours after the stabbing as witnesses claimed to have seen his pickup parked suspiciously in Burns’ neighborhood. He was later released without charges, even though investigators thought he was behaving suspiciously.

He was not charged with murder until 2010 when authorities claimed to have matched his DNA to skin cells found on the knife used to kill Burns. The DNA was inconclusive during trial testimony.

Lane’s trial ended without a verdict in September 2012 after the jury, which largely rejected the state’s case, failed to come to a consensus after three full days of deliberations. Ten jurors voted to acquit Lane, while two maintained he was guilty of fatally stabbing Burns, prompting Peters to declare a mistrial.

Lane, 38, spent nearly two years in the Muscogee County Jail awaiting trial. He has been free on about $30,000 bond since the day after the mistrial. Lane was in court on Wednesday with defense attorney Stacey Jackson.

With a gag order in effect, Peters warned the district attorney’s office and Jackson about making certain comments on the case before the trial. Jackson asked Peters to make sure the prosecutor doesn’t get new information to the defense just 10 days before the trial. Jackson said he’s already trying to get a copy of the trial transcript.

Moore said information on new witnesses or evidence would be given to the defense but she couldn’t help him with the trial transcript. “We don’t control the transcripts,” she said.

Questions for possible jurors in the case will be mailed on July 7 and returned by Aug. 4. Moore said that would give the district attorney’s office two weeks to review them before jury selection.

Jackson said he and Lane will be ready in August.

“We feel confident that evidence will show that he didn’t commit this crime,” Jackson said after the hearing. “He just wants to get an answer.”

Living in the Birmingham, Ala., area while waiting for the decision, Lane is still married and the father of a new born son.

“Now that the decision has been made, we still have our open boxes and reports ready just in case the district attorney decided to further prosecute the case,” Jackson said. “We will just dust off the files and be ready in August.”

Slater couldn’t state a reason for retrying the case but generally noted the experience of the prosecutors. “In broad terms, we rely on the education and experience of the prosecutors to make good decisions about which cases should be tried or not be tried,” she said.

The district attorney pointed out that she, Moore and Cooley have 50 years of combined experience. “That is the kind of thing you have to rely on,” Slater said.

Although Lane’s first trial lasted almost two weeks, Slater said there is no way to estimate the cost to the state to try cases. “It’s almost impossible to do,” she said.

A prosecutor would be working on the Lane case or another trial. The district attorney’s office also has to pay for experts and other trial costs that are part of the budget.

“For expert witnesses and other trial costs, we know we will have from time to time,” Slater said. “You can’t put a price on justice.”

While free on the same bond, Lane has to appear at all court hearings in the case, Jackson said. “He is upbeat and confident,” he said.

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