It’s been nearly three years since Stanley Elias Eckard, 23, buried his brother’s body in their Spring Hill backyard.
Eckard’s trial is set to start on Monday — his 24th birthday.
Sean Eckard, 19, was last seen alive on June 18, 2010, though family and friends received text messages from Sean’s phone over the next few days. Stanley — often referred to in court documents as “Eli” or “Elias” — said his younger brother had packed up and left for California.
On the morning of June 19, Donna Eckard, their mother, said she saw Eckard burying something in the backyard. He told her he was burying items belonging to an ex-girlfriend — something his father, Samuel Eckard, said during a deposition he had done before.
Family members recalled both Stanley Eckard and Daniel Mello, a houseguest, acting strange the next few days and that they continued to receive text messages from Sean’s phone. On Sunday, June 21, Samuel Eckard decided to find out what his son had buried. He started digging and uncovered a hand.
The next day, a complete excavation and autopsy found and confirmed the body belonged to Sean Eckard.
An arrest affidavit by a Hernando County Sheriff’s deputy said that Eckard “admitted to strangling the victim and eventually causing his death after falling with the victim to the floor.” Eckard said he checked for a heartbeat before burying his brother in the backyard, and that he “planned to move the body in a couple weeks after his parents were out of town.”
In the days after the homicide, law enforcement learned that the Eckard brothers, who are eight months apart in age, were arguing over a woman, Sean’s girlfriend.
Medical examiner Barbara Wolf ruled the death was a homicide and caused by blunt force trauma to the neck and head.
Sean Eckard had fractured vertebrae. In a deposition, Wolf said it was possible but “unlikely” that the brothers wrestling and hitting a bookshelf was forceful enough to cause the injuries. Court documents indicate defense attorney Alan Fanter intends to call on William Anderson, a medical doctor out of Altamonte Springs who testified in a deposition that he believed the medical examiner did not have enough information to rule the death a homicide.
Samuel and Donna Eckard maintain Sean’s death was an accident, according to court documents.
“I believe in my heart, soul and mind that this was an accident,” Samuel Eckard said in a deposition. “None of my children have that capacity, to have a hatred for someone so much so they would want to do mortal harm. It’s just not there and I know that.”
Donna Eckard speculated in her deposition that Mello influenced her son to bury his brother in the backyard, and said he is a “very angry young man” who doesn’t get along with his family.
“I know if Danny wasn’t there, Elias would have told his dad … just give me back my boy and let us go back to California,” Donna Eckard said.