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Eckard pleads guilty in slaying of Williamsport man

October 27, 1998

Robert R. EckardBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

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Robert Ray Eckard could face up to 70 years in prison as a result of his guilty plea Monday to the first-degree murder of a Williamsport man last February.

Sentencing was delayed so defense attorney Mary Riley could secure a written copy of a psychiatric examination done on Eckard.

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley ordered Eckard, a Marlowe, W.Va., resident, returned to the Washington County Detention Center without bond.

A plea agreement calls for Eckard to receive a life sentence with all but 70 years suspended.

Family members of the victim, Samuel Lease Wolfe, 59, filled two rows of the courtroom Monday as the plea was taken. They listened intently to the description of Wolfe's final hours on Feb. 5.

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"Eckard broke into Wolfe's residence at 15818 Clear Spring Road and waited three hours for him to get home," Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion said.

Eckard hit Wolfe in the head with a set of brass knuckles and then with a brick, Cirincion said.

An autopsy report said that Wolfe had been struck on the head at least 10 times, although Eckard admitted to only two, she said.

Wolfe was found on the basement steps of his home with his head down, his mouth gagged and a belt around his neck, Cirincion said.

"Eckard told police that Wolfe was gasping for air when he left that night," Cirincion said.

The murder was discovered when Washington County Sheriff's deputies went to Wolfe's house to confirm that his car had been stolen by Eckard, who was in custody for traffic charges following a chase involving police.

Sgt. Randy Wilkinson said deputies were checking on the 1975 Buick driven by Eckard when they got a call from Wolfe's brother, who was concerned.

"We made a check for well-being at the 15818 Clear Spring Road home of Samuel Wolfe and found the body at 10 p.m. on Feb. 5," Wilkinson said.

The pursuit began at about 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 5 when Hagerstown City Police officers tried to stop a 1975 Buick that had run over a curb in the West End.

Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Department joined the pursuit after the car left the city limits.

After one county cruiser wrecked during the chase, two police cars continued pursuing the Buick.

Five Maryland State Police troopers joined in the chase, setting up stop sticks south of U.S. 40 on Md. 63, but the car evaded them.

Finally the car was forced off the road by an off-duty officer.

All of Eckard's traffic and criminal charges were dropped in exchange for Monday's plea.

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