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Tattoo, song lyrics will not be evidence in Kareem Lane's retrial

Jurors in murder suspect Kareem Lane’s retrial this August won’t see a tattoo prosecutors claim Lane got to “memorialize” the fatal 1992 stabbing of then-school superintendent Jim Burns nor hear allegedly incriminating songs Lane composed years after the homicide.

Those were among the decisions made today during a pretrial hearing on motions regarding Lane’s Aug. 25 retrial for Burns’ Dec. 19, 1992, stabbing, which occurred during a violent struggle as the superintendent battled a burglar in the second-floor bedroom of his 620 Broadway home.

Prosecutors claim Lane, who was a 17-year-old Shaw High School senior in 1992, later got a tattoo depicting scales and a broken clock face that shows the times Columbus police detained and released Lane the day Burns died.

Police stopped Lane about 1 a.m. that night on Macon Road near Rigdon Road because he was driving a gray Ford Ranger pickup truck matching the description witnesses gave of a vehicle parked on Front Avenue a few blocks from Burns’ home. The witnesses said they saw a man run to the truck and drive off about the time Burns was stabbed.

Police questioned Lane through the next day. He was not charged with Burns’ homicide until cold-case investigators obtained warrants for his arrest May 4, 2010.

Judge Bobby Peters today ruled case law allows tattoos into trial evidence only to identify a suspect, and Lane was a suspect before he got the tattoo.

Assistant District Attorney George Lipscomb, who will be the lead prosecutor in Lane’s retrial, told Peters perpetrators now get tattoos for reasons other than mere decoration. For example, gang members today get tattoos of crime scenes to mark their exploits.

Lane’s attorney Stacey Jackson argued the tattoo is open to interpretation, and prosecutors would have to lay some foundation to establish its meaning. He said the tattoo shows a snake, some scales and some Roman numerals, but not a dozen numbers such as a clock has.

“There’s no way to determine whether it’s relevant to this case,” the attorney said, later adding: “It could mean a thousand different things.”

Peters ruled that by case law, the tattoo is inadmissible, but gave Lipscomb a week to research the issue, should he want to offer it again as evidence.

Prosecutors previously sought to have the jury review song lyrics Lane recorded as “K-Lane,” including one titled “Semper Fi” and another called “Automatic Warrior.” But Lipscomb today said he’s withdrawing that motion.

“Semper Fi,” for which a music video’s posted online, is a biographical piece about Lane’s joining the U.S. Marine Corps after he graduated from Shaw.

Lipscomb today said he anticipated the songs won’t come up at trial unless they’re introduced in some unsolicited testimony or otherwise become relevant incidentally.

Another prosecution pretrial motion sought to ban Jackson’s mentioning a Muscogee sheriff deputy’s fatally shooting Kenneth Walker in the head on Dec. 10, 2003. Walker was black and the deputy white, and prosecutors claim Jackson has a pattern of mentioning the racially charged incident in other cases to prejudice jurors.

Jackson in court today said he would not mention Walker’s shooting because he agrees it is not relevant to Lane’s case.

Also today Peters decided the trial would not be live-streamed on the Internet because District Attorney Julia Slater, who along with Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley will assist in Lane’s retrial, argued it would provoke conversation between jurors and friends or relatives who watched the proceedings. Jurors are ordered never to discuss a case with anyone during a trial.

Otherwise the trial remains on schedule. Jury Manager Marsha Coram today said 250 surveys were sent to potential jurors to determine who’s eligible for the jury pool, and so far 105 have been filled out and returned.

Jury selection is to be Aug. 19 through Aug. 22. Should the trial last longer than a week, as the first trial did, then in its second week it will have to resume on Tuesday, Sept. 2, because that Monday is Labor Day.

Lane remains free on $30,000 bond. He and his wife now have a little boy and live in the Birmingham, Ala., area. His first trial two years ago ended with a hung jury, though jurors voted 10-2 for acquittal.

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