HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Alec Eger's towering height, cool manner and facility with knives made him the go-to guy when kids in his neighborhood posse wanted protection.
So when 15-year-old Danielle Black put out word she wanted her father punished for beating her - a lie, it turns out - Eger, a former Altoona man, volunteered.
Eger, 20, a former restaurant worker, took a plea bargain Wednesday in which he admitted killing Billy Lee Black but not that the murder was premeditated. Eger acknowledged in an Alford plea that prosecutors had enough evidence for a first-degree conviction.
A Washington County judge convicted Eger of first-degree murder for stabbing Black behind the family's rented duplex in Hagerstown on Oct. 31, 2008.
State's Attorney Charles P. Strong said the state will seek life in prison at Eger's sentencing, which was not scheduled.
Assistant Public Defender Stefanie M. McArdle said the defense will argue for a lesser term at the Patuxent Institution, a treatment center for mentally ill inmates.
Danielle, now 16, is serving a 10-year sentence for soliciting her father's murder by asking a friend on a school bus to "take care of" him. Although she claims she didn't mean for her father to die, and while prosecutors can't prove she approached Eger directly, the judge at her sentencing in October said she had set the killing in motion.
She has recanted allegations that her father, a 47-year-old tree-trimmer, physically abused her.
Eger, a high school graduate fond of Stephen King novels, had moved from Altoona to a friend's house in Danielle's gritty West End neighborhood. He soon had a girlfriend, one of Danielle's schoolmates, and moved in with her family in the city of 40,000, about 70 miles west of Baltimore.
Eger was 6-foot-5, with a baby face, hazel eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. He wore a black leather coat and carried a knife, which impressed the kids but frightened their parents.
"I thought he was creepy," said Andrea Black, Danielle's stepmother, recalling Eger's visit to their home just two days before the murder. She said Eger left because Danielle was upstairs getting scolded by her dad for skipping school.
Eger's reputation as a protector was solidified about two months earlier, when he was stabbed in the arm while reputedly defending a girl against two would-be attackers - a story investigators couldn't substantiate.
Police found Eger through statements made by Danielle's friends, described by prosecutor Gina Cirincion as "a collection of outcasts and malcontents" from South Hagerstown High. After classmate Matthew Gray refused to confront Danielle's dad, she was overheard saying she would ask "Alec" and "Joey," one of Eger's friends.
The attack was vicious. Cirincion said Black suffered four fatal stab wounds to the head and neck, including one that nearly severed his spinal cord.
Black's wife said outside the courtroom that her husband didn't deserve to die that way.
"He was a loving, kind, caring man," she said. "He was just trying to keep her away from people like that because he knew they were bad news."