For all the uncertainty surrounding the Kareem Lane murder case, prosecutors and the defense drew a common conclusion from last week's mistrial: Both sides say they walked away with the upper hand should another jury consider the case.
"Generally, I think second trials tend to favor the state," said LaRae Dixon Moore, the lead prosecutor who remains convinced of Lane's guilt. "You have a chance to go back and correct the deficiencies, especially if you know what the jurors had a problem with."
Lane came up two votes shy of an acquittal on charges he fatally stabbed then-Muscogee County School District Superintendent Jim Burns in 1992. Defense attorney Stacey Jackson said the eight days of testimony this month -- in which no eyewitnesses implicated Lane -- amounted to "a dry run" that bolstered his belief the state has no case.
"If the case were to be tried again, we know what's coming," said Jackson, a former assistant district attorney. "If somebody had brought the case to me as a prosecutor, I wouldn't have touched it with a 10-foot pole."
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Lane, 37, is accused of sneaking into Burns' Broadway home Oct. 19, 1992, and fatally stabbing the controversial superintendent in his bedroom. Police recovered an empty knife sheath in Lane's pickup that prosecutors claim fits the murder weapon.
A 17-year-old high school student at the time, 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 wasn't charged with murder until 2010, after authorities claimed to have "matched" his DNA to skin cells found on the knife that killed Burns. Testimony this month showed the DNA to be inconclusive, and, according to one juror, almost seemed counterproductive to the prosecution's case.
"During some of the DNA evidence, I thought that the state was presenting the defense's case," said Jennifer Fletcher, who was replaced on the jury due to personal reasons after the first week of testimony. While she wasn't persuaded of Lane's innocence, Fletcher said she would have voted not guilty, noting she heard "absolutely nothing that would have made me feel that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
"I think unless some big smoking gun shows up that they should just let it drop," she said. "I think it would be foolish to put the whole court system through the process again. It can't be inexpensive."
Less than two months before the General Election, the question now is whether District Attorney Julia Slater will dismiss the charges in light of the 10-2 vote to acquit, or pursue a second time-consuming and costly trial in a cold case riddled with unanswered questions. Jackson said he's spoken to "key individuals in the black community" who are "really upset that Julia didn't just go ahead and dismiss the case."
"They want her to make a decision before the election because they want to see what kind of DA she is before they cast their votes," Jackson said. "It shouldn't take until November for her to make a decision as to whether she will try the case again."
Moore said it's difficult to identify a timeline for the decision. "In my mind, the clock is always ticking because the passage of time never favors the state," she said.
Moore said prosecutors are weighing further investigating the case to explore the issue of motive, a gaping hole that, while not legally required to secure a conviction, didn't go unnoticed in three days of jury deliberations. "We couldn't bring any motive to the case at all," one juror told the Ledger-Enquirer last week.
A second trial could be very different from the first. In their effort to "streamline" their case and pare down a lengthy witness list, Moore said prosecutors strategically steered away from introducing rap lyrics of a song Lane recorded that includes references to stabbing. Moore has likened the track to a "confession," though prosecutors may have faced obstacles admitting it into evidence.
The state also did not introduce photographs of Lane's tattoos that they consider incriminating, including one that appears to be a knife or sword on Lane's left arm. Another, on his left side, depicts a large scale balancing some type of clock face with a yin-yang symbol.
"I don't know that the law would allow us to introduce them in our case in chief," Moore said of the tattoos. "Certainly, had he put up character witnesses, I think that would have been fair to explore."
Jackson said he wasn't familiar with the tattoos when asked about them Friday. "It just seems like it would be something that's such a stretch and just so ridiculous that a jury wouldn't pay attention to it," he said. "Their case was so weak, you're grasping for straws."
While the state has a theory about the tattoos, Lane's wife, Carol, said the scale bears "no significance."
"I'm thinking it was something just creative that he imagined," she said, adding she would have to ask her husband about its meaning.
The mistrial left Lane and the Burns family in the same posture they were in after the authorities announced the arrest in 2010.
As a defendant who waited more than two years for his day in court, Lane was released on bond last week and was hoping to return to some semblance of normalcy.
He was said to be taking a "honeymoon" of sorts with his wife, who has longed for his release since the day he was taken away in handcuffs.
The Burns family, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by the jury's skepticism, and expressed outrage at Lane's release on an attainable $30,000 bond. Burns' daughter, Andrea Burns Butler, said that "going through another trial would be extremely difficult and painful."
"That said, being without my dad and without my kids' grandfather for the last 20 years has been even harder," she added. "Therefore, I would do whatever it takes to get justice for my dad."
Others called on Slater to dismiss the charges and concentrate her office's limited resources on other pursuits.
"They need to let the case go," said Edward O. DuBose, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP. "The majority of the people were wise enough to know that this young kid couldn't have possibly done this, and it's just going to be a waste of taxpayer money to take this case back again.
"What makes them think that they would get another group of people that would unanimously see it differently in terms of convicting him?"
Moore said she has an idea about what might have motivated Lane. "At this point, it's something that we can't prove," she said, "but with more time, it's possible."
"I wouldn't bring the case if I didn't believe that he committed the murder," the prosecutor added. "To me it was just crystal clear, but maybe I'm looking at it through jaded glasses."