BROOKSVILLE — By the time Stanley Eckard buried his brother's body in the yard of the family's Spring Hill home in June, years of resentment already had begun to fester, court documents show.
At 19, Sean Eckard was the youngest child and the favorite of his parents, Stanley told investigators the day his brother's body was found. Sean would do things, and Stanley, 21, would get the blame.
"Stanley felt Sean was to blame for most of his problems," an investigator wrote in a post-interview report.
The discovery documents provided to the St. Petersburg Times by the State Attorney's Office on Wednesday provide details of events that led up to Sean Eckard's death, the horrific moment Samuel and Donna Eckard unearthed their son's body, and Stanley Eckard's first-degree murder charge. Stanley Eckard has a pretrial appearance scheduled for Wednesday in Hernando County Circuit Court.
On June 17, Stanley found out that Sean was still dating a woman Stanley had hooked up with — and for whom he still pined. Sean was flaunting the relationship, Stanley said, and he admitted he got angry.
Early June 19, Stanley told investigators, he broke into his brother's locked bedroom in their home on Peoria Street. The two struggled, and Stanley told investigators he wrapped an elastic cord around his brother's neck. The pair fell to the floor, and Stanley said he heard Sean's neck pop and felt his body go limp.
Stanley pulled his brother's lifeless body back onto the bed and told investigators he started talking to Sean.
"Why did you do this?" he recalled asking. "Why did you make me fight you?"
"I had no intentions of killing him," Stanley told investigators. "I was just in a fight with him."
But instead of calling for help, Stanley hoisted his brother's body through the bedroom window and buried him in a shallow grave in the yard. He said he used his bare hands to dig the hole and planned to move the body when his parents went out of town.
The medical examiner concluded that Sean died from either a fracture to the back of his skull, three fractured vertebrae, or both.
Chief homicide prosecutor Pete Magrino would not use the phrase "love triangle" when asked about Stanley Eckard's motive. This also wasn't a crime of passion, Magrino said.
"I think the evidence reflects that the case has romantic considerations or overtones to it as opposed to passion," Magrino said.
Alan Fanter, Stanley Eckard's public defender, could not be reached Wednesday.
Family members told investigators that there had been friction between the brothers over Samantha Nicholson.
Nicholson, 23, told investigators that she had known Sean and Stanley — who friends and family call Eli — for years.
Stanley started telling people the pair were dating, but they weren't, Nicholson said. About a week later, she started dating Sean exclusively. They told Stanley about the relationship, but after it caused tension between the brothers, they tried to keep it a secret, Nicholson said.
Stanley sent Nicholson text messages warning her that Sean was a player, that he was just using her.
On June 17, as they helped their brother Jay move, Sean told Stanley he was dating Nicholson.
Sean and Nicholson spent the next day together. Sean seemed "clingy," Nicholson said. She dropped him off at his house early the morning of June 19.
When Nicholson woke up about 9:30 a.m., she found three text messages from Sean's cell phone: He was breaking up with her.
Nicholson was upset and confused. Everything had seemed fine. Sean had even told her he was in love with her.
But by then, the documents show, Sean was already dead, and Stanley was using his brother's phone.
Stanley then sent a text from his own phone asking Nicholson to call him. She did, and Stanley told her Sean had packed up his room and left for California.
Later that day, Nicholson came to the Eckard home to pick up a bathing suit she'd left there. While sitting in Nicholson's car, Stanley told her that he loved her and that they could get back together now that Sean was gone. They kissed for about 10 minutes, and Nicholson left.
Nicholson learned of Sean's death June 21, when a reporter called asking if she knew anything about the murder.
On June 19, when Donna Eckard asked Stanley about the disturbed dirt in the yard, he said he'd buried Nicholson's belongings there.
By the next day, family and friends had become worried about Sean. They called his phone, but only got text messages in reply. That was unlike him, and the wording seemed odd. Stanley would later admit to sending the messages himself.
By June 21, Donna and Samuel feared the worst. They decided to dig up what Stanley had buried.
When deputies arrived, Samuel Eckard was on his hands and knees, scooping dirt out of hole with his bare hands.
"Look, it's my son!" he screamed, lifting Sean's arm from the hole.
The deputy told Samuel to stop digging, but he didn't. The deputy grabbed Samuel's arm and pulled him away.
A few moments later, Donna Eckard emerged from a hallway with her arm around Stanley.
He was crying.