SPRING HILL — Friends said Sean Eckard and his older brother Stanley Eckard often bickered and fought, as brothers sometimes do.
Only one time did the battling turn serious, when Stanley began choking his younger brother during a heated argument earlier this year, said Aaron Jasiak, who saw the fight.
That particular fight has now taken on a special significance: Stanley, sometimes called Eli or Stan, is accused of strangling his 19-year-old brother last weekend and burying his body in the family's yard.
"Sometimes, Sean didn't know when to stop talking," said Jasiak, 20, who has lived in the Eckards' 8456 Peoria St. home for the past six months. "And Eli got mad over the stupidest things."
Jasiak said he moved to the Eckard home in January after he didn't pay rent to his father and he shut off his electricity. Calling the Eckards "the nicest family (he'd) ever met," recalling the day he showed up in their driveway in his pajamas, a bag of clothes in one hand, and they took him in, only charging him $50 for rent.
The atmosphere in the house was friendly and welcoming, Jasiak said. He sensed no escalating tension and no indication of what was to come.
He lived with the family until Monday afternoon when Samuel Eckard unearthed the body of his son, Sean, from a shallow grave in the family's yard. Because the home is a crime scene, neither the family nor Jasiak can live there now.
Stanley, 21, has been arrested on a charge of second-degree murder. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said he admitted killing his brother and said he planned to move the body when his parents went out of town in a few weeks. Autopsy results are expected to be released today.
"The question I keep asking myself is, 'Why would he do something like that?' " Jasiak said, rubbing the dark circles under his eyes. "Believe me, I have no idea why this happened."
The Sheriff's Office said Donna Eckard saw Stan digging in the yard about 3 a.m. Saturday, and he told her he was burying an ex-girlfriend's clothes.
Jasiak said he last saw Sean on Thursday night at a Spring Hill Drive Walgreens with Samuel Eckard. Jasiak said he returned to the house about 1 a.m. Sunday and found Stan asleep on a couch in the garage.
Stan seemed "chill," Jasiak said. He asked Stan if he'd seen Sean, who had been missing for 48 hours.
"He said, 'He packed all his stuff and he went on a road trip this morning,' " Jasiak said.
Friends said Stanley was a fun guy who played guitar, loved martial arts and enjoyed video games like Resident Evil with friends in the neighborhood, but was also a compulsive liar.
Juan Quinones, who lived in the house behind the Eckards' between 2005 and March of this year, was friends with both brothers.
Sean thought Stanley lied to make himself look better, Quinones said.
Quinones said Stanley had told stories about a girlfriend in California no one had met, the words of Japanese he could speak — the one time he tried, Sean said it was a memorized line from a movie — and a boss at a previous job who had been murdered.
"Maybe he did it for attention," Quinones said Wednesday. "It was too bad, because he was a really cool guy other than that."
Quinones described the family as generous and hospitable. "They're the type of family to always ask me over for dinner, and we'd have them over to our place for Spanish food," Quinones said.
Despite vastly different music tastes — Quinones likes rap and Sean's favorite band was Disturbed, a heavy metal group — the two became fast friends after they met on the school bus.
Quinones said he used a chain saw to cut a hole in the hedge separating the two houses so he and Sean could run back and forth between each other's houses.
He said he'd lift that piece of the hedge up and run to the Eckards' yard, tapping on Sean's window to get his attention. Sean's window faced onto the side yard, where his body was found.
Friends, family and authorities are still grappling with motive. Hernando sheriff's Chief Mike Maurer said there were indications a relationship between Sean and a girl caused the fight, but Quinones and Jasiak both said that didn't make sense.
Sean liked "cute white girls," Quinones said. He and Jasiak said Stanley only dated one non-Asian girl while they knew him. Sean's girlfriend is white.
"That just doesn't make sense that it was about a girl," Quinones said. "They weren't even attracted to the same type of person."
More than a year ago, Sean fell into a coma, but the cause is unclear. Quinones said it was a form of meningitis. Jasiak, however, said it was a rare condition doctors couldn't name.
Sean was in a coma for more than two months. When he pulled out, he'd become skin-and-bones and even had to relearn how to talk, Quinones and Jasiak both said.
Quinones said he got Sean a job at Texas Roadhouse in Brooksville, where the two cleaned and performed maintenance, but Sean's health didn't get better, and he had to quit.
Laura J. Nelson can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or at [email protected]