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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Judge allows statements by Brett Seacat at murder trial

By Amy Renee Leiker
The Wichita Eagle

Statements Brett Seacat made to law enforcement on at least five occasions will be allowed during testimony at his murder trial in December, a Kingman County judge ruled Wednesday.

The statements — made during interviews or interactions with authorities on April 30, May 12 and May 13 — are admissible, Judge Larry Solomon said, because Seacat was properly informed of his rights, spoke voluntarily and had not been coerced or threatened during interviews. Seacat was not under arrest at the time, witnesses testified.

“There is nothing in the record to indicate that the defendant’s mental condition” was in question on the dates of any of the interviews, Solomon said.

Seacat is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife, 34-year-old Vashti Seacat on April 30, 2011. He also faces charges of aggravated arson for allegedly setting fire to the couple’s Kingman house and two counts of child endangerment.

Referring to a lengthy May 12 interview with KBI special agent David Falletti where Seacat spoke of his marriage, law enforcement career and the events leading up to Vashti’s death, Solomon said: “Seven and a half hours is a lengthy time, I would agree, however it was during the daytime and breaks were allowed as requested. … There is nothing to indicate that this interview was unfair or otherwise inappropriate.”

Witnesses testifying Wednesday used phrases like “calm and collected” and “not distraught” to describe Seacat’s demeanor during the hours and days following his wife’s death.

“Mr. Seacat appeared to me that he was relaxed,” testified Kingman Police Chief Marc Holloway, who interviewed Seacat twice the day his wife died. “He never had problems answering questions and was not emotional.”

KBI special agent Brian Carroll also recalled Seacat as “calm and reserved” when he executed a search warrant for his clothing and other personal affects that same day.

“Did he appear distraught to you?” assistant state attorney general Amy Hanley asked, referring to Seacat.

“No,” Carroll said.

“Did he appear to understand what was going on?”

“Yes.”

Solomon reserved ruling on any statements made by Seacat to Holloway on April 30 and May 4 that may be logged on a hand-held audio recorder. During cross-examination by defense, Holloway testified to recording the second of his April 30 interviews, then withdrew his claim after counsel reviewed the device’s contents during a short recess and found no files dated before May 4.

“I believe I was wrong,” Holloway said when he was recalled to testify after court reconvened.

The recorder was turned over to Falletti after counsel determined it contained several interviews that may have bearing on the case, including a 17-minute recording dated May 4. The KBI will make copies of the recording and turn them over to counsel, according to attorneys.

Prosecutors say they were not aware of the recorder’s existence.

Solomon is expected to rule on the admissibility of any relevant statements found on the device at a later date. Attorney Roger Falk said the defense may subpoena all hand-held recording devices used by the Kingman Police Department to search for additional interviews currently unknown to counsel.

Seacat will be back in court on Aug. 22 for a hearing to determine whether statements both Brett and Vashti Seacat made to others about their relationship will be admissible in court, said Ron Keefover, spokesman for the Office of Judicial Administration. Final pretrial motions are scheduled for Nov. 13. The trial is to begin Dec. 3.

Seacat was an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time of his wife’s death. He is also a former Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy. He is being held in Kingman County Jail on $1 million bond.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at aleiker@wichitaeagle.com.

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