With his two young sons safely outside their burning home, a former Kansas lawman raced back inside the smoke-filled structure barefoot to try to pull out the body of his wife before he was driven out by smoke so thick he couldn’t see or breathe, he told jurors Friday.
Brett Seacat ended his testimony by denying that he shot his wife, Vashti Seacat, and set fire to their house, endangering the couple’s then 2- and 4-year-old boys sleeping down the hall. His account of the events leading up to the April 2011 fire and its aftermath marked the end of 12 days of witness testimony.
The judge on Friday denied a routine defense motion for acquittal, leaving the verdict in the hands of the jury. Closing arguments are expected Monday afternoon.
Prosecutors argue that Seacat shot his wife then burned down their home to cover it up. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment.
The defense contends Vashti Seacat set the fire before killing herself.
One point of dispute is whether a suicide note was written by a depressed wife and mother or forged by someone else. The prosecution contends that traces of gasoline were found on the pants Brett Seacat wore that day, but the defense raised questions about how that evidence was handled.
During his second day of testimony, Brett Seacat, a former police instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center and before that a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy, recounted an argument that he and his wife had the night she died.
The couple had been receiving marriage counseling, and Seacat said he was upset when he learned that night that she meant to go through with a contested divorce she had filed for 16 days earlier.
He testified that he threatened to tell his wife’s employer about extramarital affairs she had with two managers, in order to try to get her fired. He said he also threatened to publish private photos of her. He admitted he also told her he would take their children and she would never see them again.
Seacat spoke mostly in a monotone, but his voice cracked at times while he was describing a phone call he made to the couple’s marriage counselor the following morning seeking advice on what to tell his children about their mother’s death.
“I never encountered anything like this before,” Seacat testified. “I don’t know how you tell your kids that their mom just shot herself. The boys understood that mommy wasn’t there, and I didn’t know how to go into that.”
He acknowledged telling the counselor that it was his fault his wife is dead but said he didn’t kill her.
“For 19 years, I was the one who protected Vashti,” Seacat said. “Finally, I pushed her into what I was protecting her from.”
He told the jury how he met Vashti when he was competing at a wrestling tournament. They were both in high school. —
“On several occasions, I stopped her from doing something I don’t think I am allowed to talk about,” Seacat testified.
The comment, an apparent reference to previous suicide attempts, prompted prosecutors to object. The judge ordered jurors to ignore the statement.
Jurors intently listened while Seacat recounted how he had slept on the couch that night, until his wife woke him up at 3:51 a.m. with a call from their upstairs bedroom to his cellphone.
“She said, ‘You need to come get the boys or they are going to get hurt,’” he testified.
He recounted his initial confusionand said he then heard a loud crackling noise upstairs followed by a popping sound.
The couple’s bedroom already was on fire, and as he lifted his wife from their bed, he realized she was dead and the fire was spreading with their two children down the hall.
He testified that he dropped the body and ran to the boys’ bedroom where he scooped them up, putting them in Vashti Seacat’s car.