SPRING HILL — A Spring Hill man accused of killing his brother in 2010 is likely headed to trial on a first-degree murder charge.
Stanley Eckard appeared in a Hernando County courtroom Friday for the last status hearing before his trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday.
"We have not been able to reach a resolution in this matter and will remain on the trial docket," Chief Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter told Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti during a brief hearing.
Fanter and chief homicide prosecutor Pete Magrino have declined to comment about the case or any pending plea negotiations. According to Eckard's parents, their son has been pondering a deal that would cap his prison sentence at 20 years if he pleads guilty to second-degree murder.
A first-degree murder conviction comes with a mandatory life prison term; Eckard could also be sentenced to life if a jury finds him guilty of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors say Stanley Eckard planned to kill Sean Eckard when he broke into his 19-year-old brother's locked bedroom early on the morning of June 19, 2010. They are expected to point to statements Stanley made after his arrest indicating simmering resentment of his brother and tension over a woman.
According to court documents, Eckard said he wrapped an elastic cord around Sean's neck but didn't mean to kill him. Eckard said they fell to the floor and he heard Sean's neck pop and felt his body go limp.
He admitted that, instead of calling for help, he hoisted his brother out the window and buried him in a shallow grave in the side yard of the Spring Hill home the men shared with their parents. Samuel Eckard, the young men's father, found Sean's body two days later.
Samuel and Donna Eckard say they are convinced their son is telling the truth and have criticized prosecutors for pursuing a murder charge. They said the men had disagreements but loved each other. They also say it was routine for family members to pop locks on bedroom doors because the sons often wore headphones and couldn't hear knocks.
Samuel and Donna Eckard say they believe Stanley went into the room to talk about Sean's girlfriend, an argument turned physical, and Stanley had to defend himself.
It's unclear if Eckard would be allowed to change his mind as late as Monday, when jury selection is set to begin. Monday is also Eckard's 24th birthday.
As a light rain fell Friday, Eckard's parents left the courthouse and retrieved a suit from their car to deliver to Fanter for their son to wear next week.
"My son believes that the plea they're giving him is not a fair plea, and he's also considering the fact that if he was gone that long, his parents would be dead and gone by the time he gets out," Samuel Eckard said later Friday. "What they're charging him with is not anywhere close to accurate. It's based on assumptions (prosecutors) made, and they're not correct."
Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.