June 11, 2013

Ex-Kansas lawman Brett Seacat convicted in murder of wife

Jurors on Tuesday convicted Brett Seacat of murdering his wife, more than two years after she was fatally shot and their Kingman home set ablaze.

Jurors on Tuesday convicted Brett Seacat of murdering his wife, more than two years after she was fatally shot and their Kingman home set ablaze.

The verdict came about 3 p.m. after roughly six hours of deliberation Tuesday. Seacat, 37, was also convicted of aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment linked to the April 30, 2011, death of 34-year-old Vashti Seacat and a fire that destroyed the couple’s house while their young sons were inside.

Prosecutors are asking for the "Hard 50" sentence, which is life without parole for 50 years.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors contended Seacat, an ex-lawman skilled in crime scene investigations and interrogation tactics, plotted to shoot and kill his wife to stop her from divorcing him and then torched their home to destroy the evidence. Seacat claims Vashti Seacat, indecisive about their pending divorce, suffered bouts of depression and committed suicide after he threatened to wreck her career and take away her boys. He maintains she set the house on fire before she killed herself.

The coroner could not determine whether Vashti Seacat’s death was a homicide or suicide, which left jurors weighing 12 days of witness testimony and dozens of pieces of circumstantial evidence to decide the ex-lawman’s fate.

Five women and eight men, including the three alternates, remained on the jury following closing arguments Monday afternoon. Kingman County District Court Judge Larry Solomon dismissed two jurors last week for medical or family emergencies.

One of the 13 – Juror No. 14 – was sequestered until the 12 finished their deliberations and delivered a verdict. Solomon turned the case over to the jury late Monday afternoon following three hours of closing arguments by attorneys for both sides.

Jurors opted to break for the evening and returned Tuesday morning for deliberations.

Seacat is a former Sedgwick County Sheriff’s deputy and ex-police instructor for the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. His wife, a Cox Communications employee in Wichita and mother of two, filed for divorce about two weeks before she died.

He has remained in Kingman County Jail on $1 million bond for more than two years, while awaiting trial.

The courthouse was mostly quiet on Tuesday after jurors stepped behind locked doors at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the case. A few spectators sat in the courtroom gallery as the judge waited in his chambers; law enforcement and attorneys milled about.

Outside, news media spent part of the morning positioning TV cameras and lighting toward a white podium set up on the north lawn, where jurors willing to give statements will speak.

Media from national news outlets have flocked to Kingman, a quiet town of about 3,100. CNN set up a tent and chairs on the courthouse lawn. A producer from NBC’s “Dateline” sat daily among local newspaper reporters taking notes while court was in session. ABC News, the Associated Press and other major news outlets are also covering the trial.

The Seacats’ fire-scorched home, once a stately three-story house the couple apparently was working to restore, remains standing on East B Avenue. Neighbors last year complained falling debris was a nuisance.

Brett Seacat testified last week in court that before Vashti Seacat’s death he used to play with his sons in the yard.

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