The gallery heard more of Stanley Eckard’s voice late Thursday afternoon than during the previous days of trial.
Without the jury, and with Eckard’s family removed except for his father, Samuel Eckard, prosecutor Pete Magrino told Judge Anthony Tatti he believed there was a “material breach of rule” in the proceedings.
Magrino played two recordings of phone calls between Stanley Eckard and his parents discussing the trial proceedings after the jury was selected, including testimony already given, and which parent planned to testify in the case.
“If you take the stand, just remember, it’s good or it’s bad, gotta just tell them the accuracy,” Eckard said. “Try your best to remember dates … tell Jenn if she gets on the stand to clarify what that cop said … once that nonsense is clarified you’ll be all right.”
Eckard took a few jabs at Magrino’s demeanor — calling him a “prick” and a rhyming expletive — and physical appearance, and called witness Samantha Rowe an “idiot.” Eckard also said witness Danny Mello showed up to court “looking like he crawled out of a Dumpster.”
“Today was a bunch of nonsense … DNA experts and bull****, gonna get shot down tomorrow,” Eckard said.
There was more than one deep sigh and chuckle let out while the phone calls were played.
Tatti said the discussions were a knowing violation of sequestration between Eckard and his mother, and called in Donna Eckard to answer Fanter’s questions about the events leading up to Sean’s body being found in the Peoria Street backyard.
Tatti said Eckard violated the sequestration by telling his mother information he learned during the trial but said he couldn’t determine if this information altered her testimony. Tatti decided he would allow Donna Eckard to testify for the defense and also allow Magrino to cross-examine the defendant’s mother on the sequestration violation.
Jurors watched more than three hours of Stanley Eckard’s jail interview tape on Thursday before Magrino finished the state’s case.
Stanley Eckard is barefoot in the footage, wearing a black muscle shirt and jean shorts. After Eckard signs off on his Miranda rights, Detective Randy Williamson tells Eckard he’s heard there are some “strange things” going on at his house, and asks the defendant to tell him more about it.
Eckard said he and Sean had a “dispute” over a woman, and that he was trying to teach Sean “common sense and stuff” because he was hanging out with some “unsavory people.”
Stanley said he was upset with his brother and felt “hurt” because Sean was dating Samantha Rowe. Eckard was reluctant to give the detective her name, and called her “Jessie” as a pseudonym.
“I’ve known her a long time, two or three years … we always had a little thing for each other,” Eckard said, adding they had gone to the beach and the movies together, and he had accompanied Rowe and her daughter to the park. Eckard said he found out Sean was dating her about three weeks before his death.
As Williamson started to ask about his brother, Eckard became increasingly upset and cried.
Eckard first denied digging the hole and told Williamson he walked in to Sean trying to hang himself.
“Just tell the truth,” Williamson said. “Don’t let someone else paint this picture.” The defendant and detective left to look for the elastic cord Sean had around his neck when he died in a retention pond, which was never recovered. In the field, Eckard told detectives Danny Mello helped him push Sean out of the window.
Back at the sheriff’s office, Eckard and Williamson eat fast food, then Eckard said Mello pulled the cord when his brother’s neck snapped.
“You’re not a good liar because it doesn’t sit well with you,” Williamson said, often patting Stanley’s back and sympathizing with the then-21-year-old, telling him he’s not a monster or a “serial killer,” just a man in love.
Williamson questioned the story change. Eckard hugged his knees into his chest, and then eventually said he was to blame for Sean’s death and burial.
Throughout the video, jurors looked along on a paper transcript.
The tape ends shortly after 10 p.m. with Williamson collecting Eckard’s clothes and giving him a white jumpsuit then photographing him.
After Magrino rested the state’s case shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, Fanter asked Tatti to acquit Stanley Eckard of the murder of his brother.
Fanter said the state did not satisfy the burden of proof necessary to show Eckard committed premeditated murder, and that the evidence of the June 19 fight — a moved bed, and items knocked over — “disproves premeditation.”
Tatti rejected the motion, referencing past Florida Supreme Court decisions that rely on circumstantial evidence, and ruled the state does not need to “present evidence of the exact manner of a victim’s death or location of murder.”
The judge said jurors had seen enough evidence to “conclude premeditation existed” — the “revenge conversation” where Eckard told Mello one could incapacitate someone by a neck blow, and hide the body in his or her own backyard. Tatti said it was clear the brothers had an ongoing dispute, and the “three hours text conversation” with Samantha Rowe just a day and a half after his brother’s death “did not suggest the attitude of a young man who has accidentally killed his brother, simply waiting for the right time to reveal” the death to his father.
Pathologist William Anderson, who was the deputy chief medical examiner in Orlando for 12 years, testified as the defense’s first witness.
Anderson agreed Sean Eckard’s death was a homicide, but said that after reviewing the autopsy report, office notes and photos, he didn’t think Eckard died from strangulation.
The doctor explained Eckard wouldn’t have died from a skull fracture, but that the brain trauma set his death in motion. Eckard’s previous brain injury and heightened blood alcohol level — perhaps three times the legal limit — might have sent him into cardio respiratory arrest.
Anderson said someone falling on Sean Eckard could have caused the trauma.
Jurors are expected to deliberate on Friday.