Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Attorneys debate whether Sean Eckard's death was accident or brother's revenge

RECOMMENDED READING


BROOKSVILLE — Father's Day 2010 was supposed to be a joyous occasion for the Eckard household, a time to celebrate patriarch Samuel Eckard and the birthday of his wife, Donna.

But one of the couple's sons, 19-year-old Sean, never showed up to a party that Sunday. By then, his body was decomposing in a shallow grave in the side yard of the family's Spring Hill home.

How Sean Eckard got there is not in dispute: His brother, Stanley, buried him early the previous morning.

On Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino set out to convince a Hernando County jury that Stanley planned the killing.

During opening arguments, as Eckard sat stone-faced at the defense table, Magrino told jurors that the 24-year-old murdered his younger brother in cold blood because he was upset that Sean was dating a woman Stanley had dated.

Earlier on the morning of June 19, Magrino said, Eckard went into Sean's bedroom and wrapped an elastic cord around his brother's neck. The men fell, and Sean suffered a broken neck and fractured skull.

"(Stanley) dug a hole in the side yard, where he placed Sean's body, filled in the hole, went back inside and fell asleep," Magrino said. "That's murder in the state of Florida."

After his arrest, Eckard several times changed his story about how Sean died, Magrino said. Eckard told investigators that Sean was selling drugs and might have been killed because he owed someone money. Then he said he came into his bedroom that morning and saw Sean trying to hang himself. As Stanley tried to help, Sean fell and died.

Finally, Magrino said, Stanley told the truth.

"He said I did it, and it was because of the girl," Magrino said.

During his opening remarks, Chief Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter told jurors there was no plan to kill Sean.

He said Stanley did go into his brother's room that morning, the two men started to argue and then struggle. Fanter said Sean pinned Stanley against the wall, Stanley pushed back, and they fell to the floor. Sean hit his head on a nightstand and died.

Then Stanley made a poor choice, Fanter said. Worried about the impact the death would have on Donna Eckard and her weak heart, he decided to hide the body and tell his father Samuel later.

"Don't let the fact that he tried to cover it up cloud the facts that led to (Sean's) death," Fanter told the jury. "A tragic accident happened that day, not a crime."

Later Tuesday, Dr. Barbara Wolf, chief medical examiner for the 5th Judicial Circuit, testified that Sean Eckard died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck. There were no obvious signs of strangulation on his neck, but there was bleeding in the muscle under the skin that could have been a result of being strangled, Wolf said.

Fanter asked Wolf if Sean Eckard could have suffered the injuries by hitting his head on the nightstand as the two men struggled. She said it was possible.

Danny Mello, a friend of both men who was staying at the Eckard house at the time, testified that Stanley was "sore" about being rejected by a woman named Samantha Nicholson, who then started dating Sean.

That wasn't the only reason resentment might have simmered, according to Mello's testimony.

"He once told me that Sean was shown favoritism (by) the family," Mello said.

Several days before Sean's death, Mello and the brothers had a conversation about revenge. Mello testified that he brought up the subject because he was angry at a friend who had slept with his girlfriend.

According to Mello, Stanley said if he wanted to kill a person, he would hit him in the back of the head, then bury the corpse in the yard.

"It was all hypothetical," Mello said. "Or at least it was believed to be."

Mello said just before Sean's death, Stanley got upset when he saw his brother and Nicholson together.

On that Saturday morning, Mello said, he awoke, and Stanley told him Sean had packed up and left. Later that day, Mello testified, Stanley said Sean had texted him two or three times saying he was out of state. Mello said that on Sunday, Stanley mentioned he was thinking of moving to Japan. On Monday, he awoke to screams and looked out the window to see Samuel Eckard digging in the yard.

During cross-examination, Mello acknowledged that Sean had a short temper and once got mad enough about the drama over Nicholson to throw something against the wall.

Asked which brother could take the other in a fight, Mello said Sean.

"Did you ever make that statement, 'If there's anything I can do to keep (Stanley) behind bars, I'm more than willing to help?' " Fanter asked.

"Yes, sir," Mello replied.

Fanter did not ask him to elaborate.

The trial is expected to conclude by Friday.

Reach Tony Marrero @[email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

 
Comments
SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

When Ryan Cleckner was an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan, he had as many as nine rifles he would use in different situations. But whenever a mission would evolve quickly, he would have to choose which ones to lug onto a helicopter. Even narrowing ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

Lys Isma was born in Haiti, but she’s used to driving in Miami with a license, going to college and living without fear of being deported.The Florida International University biology student has lived in Florida since she was 9 months old. Undocument...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. Tampa Bay (...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Basketball: USF Bulls bounce back with rout of Howard; FSU, Miami win

TAMPA — Three nights after running out of steam in a loss at Indiana, USF had enough to steamroll Howard of the MEAC.A 17-1 run late in the first half helped the Bulls to a 75-52 win Wednesday before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 2,080. USF (3-2) he...
Updated: 1 hour ago
From USF-UCF, to UF-FSU, to Alabama-Auburn, it’s a busy college football Thanksgiving weekend

From USF-UCF, to UF-FSU, to Alabama-Auburn, it’s a busy college football Thanksgiving weekend

 
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

TAMPA — The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said it’s too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner."We haven’t turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, preparing for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. "It’s ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Associated PressSome smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday dec...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, please go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Wed., Nov. 22, midday:76 001 3688e_SRit36220Wed., Nov. 22, evening:18 535 9156e_SRit57364LottoWed., Nov....
Updated: 3 hours ago

Top Trump staffers failed to file financial reports on their way out the door

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff Reince Priebus and foreign policy adviser Sebastian Gorka — failed to file legally required financial reports after they were dismissed this summer, according to government re...
Updated: 3 hours ago