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Man charged in Williamsport slaying

February 07, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Man charged in Williamsport slaying

WILLIAMSPORT - A man who was caught driving a dead man's car Thursday has been charged with first-degree murder.

Robert Ray Eckard, 20, who has no fixed address, was charged Friday in the murder of Samuel Lease Wolfe Jr., 59, of Williamsport, according to charging documents.

Eckard already was charged with the theft of Wolfe's dark green 1975 Buick Apollo when police found Wolfe dead in his home, 15818 Clear Spring Road, about 10 p.m. Thursday, the Washington County Sheriff's Department said.

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On Friday, Eckard's $250,000 bail was revoked. He was at the Washington County Detention Center awaiting a Monday bond review. A preliminary hearing is set for March 5.

Eckard also is charged with burglary in the taking of $5 in pennies from Wolfe's house, court records show.

And he faces numerous other charges in connection with the car theft and a Thursday morning police chase, court records said.

Wolfe's family hadn't seen him all day Thursday. When Wolfe didn't answer his door, his brother, Norman Wolfe, and his daughter, Misty Hiles, called the sheriff's department.

Thursday night, police broke into Wolfe's house and saw blood on a chair and on the floor, court records said.

They found Wolfe's body lying face up at the bottom of his basement stairs. He had a gag in his mouth and there was a belt around his neck, court records said.

An autopsy showed he died of choking and a blow to the head, court records said.

Police gave no motive for the killing.

Eckard grew up next door to Wolfe, but police said he recently lived on Conococheague Street in Williamsport and in Marlowe, W.Va., police said.

Police questioned Eckard early Friday morning.

At first, Eckard told police that he had Wolfe's permission to borrow the car Wednesday evening, court records said.

But shortly after, in a taped interview, he gave police a different account of what happened that night.

The attacker was shooting pool at Jack's Tavern in Williamsport on Wednesday evening when he decided to go to Wolfe's house, court records said.

Wolfe wasn't home, so the man broke in a side window and rummaged around to find $5 in pennies, court records said. The man waited there three hours.

When Wolfe got home, his attacker hit him on the head with brass knuckles, court records said.

When Wolfe cried out that he had no money in the house, his attacker jumped on top of him and hit him with a brick that was laying on the floor, court records said.

The attacker carried Wolfe, who was "making gurgling noises," to the basement, court records said.

Eckard's sneakers matched a shoe print at Wolfe's house, court records said.

When Eckard left Wolfe's house, he told police he went to the D&B Tavern on Salem Avenue in Hagerstown.

Thursday morning, Eckard was taken into custody after a high-speed police chase.

The pursuit began at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday when Hagerstown City Police officers tried to stop a 1975 Buick that had run over a curb in the West End, Capt. Robert Hart said.

Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Cooper was injured when his cruiser flipped north of Huyetts Crossroads during the pursuit of Eckard, police said.

Cooper was taken to Washington County Hospital, treated and released.

Cooper, 31, was wearing his seat belt and both air bags went off. The cage also kept the roof from crushing Cooper, rescuers said.

Up to a dozen police cruisers were involved in the chase, Hart said.

Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Department, including Cooper, joined the pursuit after the car left the city limits, officials said.

Eckard has been charged with four counts of assault by automobile; carrying brass knuckles and a knife, concealed weapons; and several counts of first- and second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property, police said.

Before he was charged with murder on Friday, Eckard appeared before Washington County District Judge Ralph France.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Lisa Hardy told France Friday that Eckard was no stranger to the criminal justice system.

Eckard's record includes convictions for burglary in 1996 and burglaries, thefts and a violation of probation in 1995, court records showed.

Eckard answered France's questions with either a yes or no.

A public defender will be assigned to represent Eckard, who has no job.

Eckard is awaiting trial on possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, disturbing the peace, possession of fake drugs, and two incidents of minor in possession of alcohol, Hardy said.

Staff writers Marlo Barnhart and Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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