Almost two years after his murder trial ended with a hung jury and 22 years after the fatal stabbing of Muscogee County School Superintendent Jim Burns, suspect Kareem Lane was back before a Columbus judge Friday.
He was there to hear attorneys discuss the schedule for retrying him in the cold-case homicide that without resolution remains a mystery, a shadow haunting both the suspect and the city.
The superintendent was in a dispute with school board members who wanted to buy out his contract and send him packing. His unsolved homicide spawned rumors he was assassinated because he was about to air all the school district’s dirty laundry to disparage his critics.
During a struggle shortly after midnight on Oct. 19, 1992, an intruder stabbed Burns in the back in the upstairs bedroom of the superintendent’s 620 Broadway home. Evidence indicated Burns and burglar fought their way downstairs to the front door, where Burns’ assailant broke free and ran, while Burns collapsed and bled to death, the knife beside him.
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Police stopped and questioned Lane, then a 17-year-old Shaw High School senior, after witnesses two blocks away on Front Avenue reported seeing someone run to a gray pickup with a decal and drive away. Police said Lane’s truck matched that description, and they found a knife sheath inside, but they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him.
Cold-case investigators charged Lane on May 4, 2010, after authorities in Pell City, Ala., picked him up on a warrant. After his return to Columbus, he remained jailed until the mistrial, after which Judge Bobby Peters reduced his bond from $750,000 to $30,000.
He walked out of the Muscogee County Jail on Sept. 20, 2012.
Now 39, Lane said Friday that he and his wife Carol, 36, now live in the Birmingham, Ala., area. They have a 3-month-old son, and have managed to put the trial behind them – except for the retrial they knew could come. Even if 10 of 12 jurors felt he was not guilty, a mistrial is not an acquittal, and trying the defendant again does not constitute double jeopardy.
The couple said their lives are much like they were before his arrest four years ago.
“This was still looming, obviously,” Kareem Lane said. “You know, it weighs on your mind from time to time, but we remain optimistic and hope for the best. It doesn’t weigh on me every day, but it’s a looming cloud.” Added his wife: “Especially since they’ve announced the retrial. Then it’s like you think about it a lot more than you want to think about it.”
They will have a lot to think about this summer, after prosecutors and defense attorney Stacey Jackson discussed Peters’ proposed schedule for the retrial Friday afternoon.
Here’s the schedule Peters laid out, and attorneys did not oppose:
June 6: attorneys file pretrial motions.
July 11: attorneys argue their motions.
Aug. 19-22: attorneys pick a jury prescreened by questionnaires.
Aug. 25: the first day of trial.
The lead prosecutor in Lane’s first trial was Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore. Because Moore soon is to leave the district attorney’s office to join Columbus law firm Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis and Rothschild, Peters wanted to know who would replace her on the case.
District Attorney Julia Slater said she and Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley assisted Moore the first time and will remain on the case, possibly adding two other attorneys. They were still discussing their options, she said.
A second issue was how to handle juror questionnaires. Jury Manager Marsha Coram said the package to be sent each potential juror currently is 12 pages long with a cover sheet, which she plans to send out after jurors are summoned. Because only 34 percent of those summoned respond, she believes she’ll have to send out at least 250 questionnaires to ensure the court has an adequate jury pool from which to pick.
“I’d rather have too many than not enough,” she said.
Attorneys are not free to discuss the facts of the case outside open court, because Peters has issued a gag order. Attorneys briefly debated the extent to which that applies to Carol Lane, who has advocated for her husband online, through websites and social media.
Peters earlier Friday said the Lanes are free to discuss matters such as what their personal lives are like now, but not aspects of the criminal case. Moore said prosecutors don’t want anything posted online to so taint the jury pool that a change of venue becomes necessary.