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Killer sentenced to 70 years

December 02, 1998

EckhardBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

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Robert Ray Eckard, who in October pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of a Williamsport man, was sentenced Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court to 70 years in prison.

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"I took a man's life," Eckard said in a rambling statement to Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley. "Whatever time I get, I'll do the time."

Beachley sentenced Eckard, 21, of Marlowe, W.Va., to life in prison, but in accordance with an Oct. 26 plea agreement, suspended all but 70 years.

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"This is a very serious case," Beachley told Eckard. "I want you to take a moment of silence so you can think about the man you terminated."

Washington County Sheriff's deputies discovered the beaten and gagged body of Samuel Lease Wolfe on Feb. 5 when they went to Wolfe's home to confirm that his car had been stolen by Eckard, who was in custody on traffic charges after a chase involving police.

Beachley denied defense attorney Mary Riley's request that he recommend Eckard be sent to the Patuxent Institution.

Riley told Beachley that Eckard's problems started at age 13, affecting him at school and at home and eventually getting him into trouble with the law.

Members of Wolfe's family filled two rows of the courtroom Tuesday as the sentence was imposed. None wished to speak, in or out of court.

According to a statement read when Eckard entered his guilty plea, Eckard broke into Wolfe's home at 15818 Clear Spring Road on Feb. 5 and waited three hours for him to return home, said Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion.

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

An autopsy found that Wolfe had been hit on the head at least 10 times, although Eckard admitted to striking him only twice, 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.

Sgt. Randy Wilkinson said deputies found Wolfe's body at 10 p.m. on Feb. 5.

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

Two deputies joined the pursuit after the car left the city limits.

After one county cruiser crashed 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, an off-duty officer forced the car off the road.

Traffic and other criminal charges against Eckard were dropped in exchange for his plea to one count of first-degree murder.

"Some people are so dangerous they can't live with the rest of us," Beachley said. "May God have mercy on you."

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