At first, the crime scene video shows the front of the house and driveway of 8456 Peoria St. Then a pile of dirt. Stanley Eckard looks away as soon as the camera focuses in on Sean Eckard’s gray, lifeless arm that is visible in the shallow grave — about a foot deep.
Eckard, 24, is on trial for the June 2010 murder of his brother, Sean. Eckard has confessed to the murder, and to burying his brother in his parents’ back yard, but maintains it was an accident that he tried to cover up. During opening arguments, defense attorney Alan Fanter called Sean Eckard’s death a “tragedy and an accident; not a crime.”
The majority of the testimony Wednesday was witness Angelique Lees, who works for the sheriff’s office forensic science unit. Lees was part of the team that unearthed Sean Eckard’s body in June 2010, and collected evidence from the house in the following days.
Lees explained that excavation is a “very long process” that can take up to a day, since forensics need to carefully dig layer by layer and sift through each scoop of dirt for evidence. During cross examination Tuesday, Eckard’s attorney asked Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Wolf why Sean Eckard’s body was found in the early afternoon, but not recovered until the following day.
Video also showed Sean Eckard’s nearly-exhumed body, lying in the fetal position and covered with flies. Eckard’s father cried quietly in the gallery, while a few more emotional family members left the courtroom.
Morning questioning focused on Samantha Rowe, Sean Eckard’s girlfriend at the time of his death in 2010. Rowe, who changed her last name after marriage, is named in the court documents as Samantha Nicholson.
Rowe told Prosecutor Pete Magrino she met Sean Eckard back in 2007, when he would come to her house for barbeques and to swim. She met Stanley two years later, in 2009.
Once, Rowe said, she was alone with Stanley Eckard on her mother’s porch and “just kind of talked.”
“He said he had a crush on me and that was about it … (I) wasn’t interested,” Rowe said.
Rowe said she “hit it off” with Sean Eckard that summer, which upset his brother. Rowe recounted a conversation she had with Stanley, with Sean listening in, and the defendant told her that Sean was “just using her,” and he would soon find someone else and go to California.
On June 19, Rowe said she received a text message from Sean Eckard, who said he was breaking up with her and was on his way out west.
Rowe sent Stanley a message that he was “right” about Sean, and later on the phone, Rowe asked to pick up a bathing suit she had left in Sean’s room.
Stanley Eckard told her she could come by that night to pick it up, but not to let his mother see her car because she would get “upset.”
Rowe parked down the street, and Stanley sat in the passenger seat. They talked for 45 minutes or so, and Rowe said Stanley felt “more relaxed” now that Sean had left.
“He said he wanted to get back together,” Rowe said. “But there was no ‘back together.’”
Magrino asked if Eckard then kissed her. Yes, Rowe said, describing the kiss as “aggressive.”
During cross examination, Fanter presented pages of phone and text message records from Rowe’s account in 2010, and asked if she ever “flirted” or participated in “sexting” with the defendant.
Rowe said she hadn’t.
Fanter read a handful of explicit text messages, and then asked again if Rowe denied “sexting” with him.
“No … prior to me knowing more about him,” Rowe said.
Fanter cited additional “obscene” messages and a series of phone calls Rowe made to Stanley Eckard, both before and after Sean’s death. The attorney said he interpreted Rowe’s message saying she wanted to see Stanley that she wanted “to get back together.”
Rowe maintained she did not consider the messages “flirting.”
Magrino spent the afternoon entering numerous exhibits into evidence to support the state’s case, including items from the Eckard home and the victim’s blood and DNA samples.
The state is expected to finish Thursday, and the defense has anticipated they need less than a day to make their case. A decision is expected Friday.