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Woman follows missteps of her brother's killer

October 19, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In an all-too-familiar Washington County Courthouse courtoom Monday, Eva Seiler waited, sitting with her hands folded in her lap, to look into the eyes of a man she's watched for more than 20 years.

When it was announced that the cases against Richard Wayne Lias on alcohol and assault charges would not go forward, Seiler grabbed her pocketbook and left.

She didn't get the chance to remind Lias of his past Monday, but she has spent 22 years making sure he doesn't forget it.

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In November 1983 - in the same courtroom - Lias pleaded guilty to killing Seiler's 19-year-old brother, Jeffrey Lynn Swope. Lias' plea to second-degree murder came after a jury started deliberations on charges, including first-degree murder, for Swope's June 29, 1983, death.

Lias was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison, the maximum sentence for a second-degree murder conviction, but was paroled after serving about 10 years.

"It sounds so good when you go to court and they get a life sentence or something like that, but they don't tell you the rest of the story," Seiler said. "As soon as he walks in those prison doors, he's getting time off ... It's like they're discounting your loss."

Seiler, 43, said she has been counting Lias' mistakes since his sentencing. She has folders at home filled with charging documents, faded typewritten parole commission letters and yellowed newspaper clippings to prove it.

"It's just that I don't want him to get by with anything," she said. " I already feel he's gotten more breaks than he deserves."

Lias, 44, has been held at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup since August on a violation of parole charge, Maryland Division of Correction Spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett said.

He is listed as serving 30 years for homicide and drugs, she said.

Lias was released from prison in 1993 but returned in 1995, Doggett said. Six years later, in August 2001, he was released again. After he was out of prison for four years, Lias was sent back in August, Doggett said.

Seiler said she has not missed any of his court or parole hearings.

"I just want him to see me. I'm representing the person that he killed," she said. "Jeff can't say or do anything."

Seiler said she watched Lias get arrested outside Washington County District Court following a recent hearing on the assault and alcohol charges.

"I didn't want to avoid looking at him so I stared at him," she said. "I wanted to make him feel uncomfortable."

"He looked at me and said, 'Are you happy?' and I said, 'Yes, I am,'" Seiler said.

Staying on top of all of Lias' hearings takes "a lot of energy," she said, adding that she doesn't trust that she will get notified for every parole or court hearing unless she does it herself.

"It does, in some ways, create stress, but I just feel it's something I have to do," she said. "I don't feel like I'm stuck. I still live my life."

Her husband, Guy Seiler, has supported her throughout the whole ordeal. On Monday, Guy Seiler, a postal carrier, took a break from his route to run into the courthouse and sit beside his wife. When she was told that Lias would not be brought to court, Guy Seiler left. Eva Seiler waited until the official announcement was made.

She said she has tried to keep information about her brother's death from her four children, but they recently have become more interested and have read the newspaper clippings.

Seiler was one of four children. She said she was "closer to Jeff (Swope) than anyone in our family."

Swope, who grew up in Smithsburg and Hagerstown, "was just starting his life" when he was killed "over something stupid," she said.

At the time of his murder, Swope was working at Sheetz and "didn't have much of chance to plan things just yet," Seiler said.

According to published reports from Lias' trial, a drunk Lias, then 22, saw Swope kissing a young woman, who was the mother of Lias' daughter and a former live-in girlfriend, before Lias ran at Swope with a hunting knife in an alley in Hagers- town's West End. Lias testified that he "tripped," which caused him to stab Swope, but the prosecutor argued that Lias made no reference to tripping when he confessed the crime to police, according to published reports.

Seiler said she can't erase the image she has of her brother's death.

"He was alone. He was scared. He took off running and because of that he bled to death in someone's backyard," she said.

She has written Lias a letter, but she has never sent it.

"I don't think I'll stop after 30 years," she said. "If he would have served 30 years from beginning to end, maybe."

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