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Defense attorneys in Brett Seacat murder trial call into question security of crime scene

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, June 5, 2013, at 8:45 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 11, 2013, at 7:42 a.m.

— Attorneys for Brett Seacat on Wednesday questioned crime scene security in the hours immediately following a fire set at the home he shared with his estranged wife, Vashti Seacat – citing a log police kept to track who was at the scene that was not started until about 17 hours after the first law enforcement officer arrived.

Displaying a photocopied, handwritten document dated April 30, 2011, for the jury, attorney Val Wachtel asked Kingman Police Chief Marc Holloway to read the first time recorded on it.

“It would appear 2100 hours (9 p.m.) April 30, 2011,” said Holloway, the first of several witnesses asked to comment on the significance of keeping a crime scene log.

“Which would have been after the fire was extinguished?” Wachtel asked.

“Yes, it would.”

“It appears to me like several hours,” Wachtel replied.

Later, when prompted by Wachtel, Holloway said he did not know the exact time the Seacat home had been declared a crime scene and answered “no” when asked whether that information was recorded on the log kept by Kingman police.

Holloway was one of several law enforcement and fire officials who agreed in court Wednesday afternoon that keeping a detailed log of who arrives at and leaves a crime scene is vital. All, however, showed no signs they were concerned that measures taken to secure the Seacat home in the hours immediately following the fire compromised the investigation.

“It’s important to the integrity of the crime scene,” Brad Agnew, a state fire marshal fire investigator, said when questioned by defense attorney Roger Falk. Later during cross-examination by the prosecution, he added that he never saw anyone from the general public wandering through the property.

“Was there anything compromised as far as scene security?” asked Tom Bath, associate counsel to the prosecution.

“Not to my knowledge,” Agnew replied.

When Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Brian Carroll took the stand for his second round of testimony in the trial, Falk asked: “Would it (a delay in record-keeping) cause you to have concerns about scene security?”

“Not exactly scene security,” said Carroll, who appeared surprised to learn the log was not kept until several hours after the fire. “But just poor documentation of who’s coming and going.”

Brett Seacat, dressed in a black suit paired with a gold shirt and tie, conferred with his attorneys at several points during the testimony. The former police instructor faces a first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of his wife, 34-year-old Vashti Seacat, as well as aggravated arson and two counts of aggravated child endangerment.

Prosecutors allege that Seacat, 37, killed his wife while she slept, then ignited the blaze during the early morning of April 30, 2011, to cover up the crime. Defense attorneys argue that a depressed Vashti Seacat, who filed for divorce 16 days before she died, started the fire, then committed suicide in her upstairs bedroom as her two sons – then ages 2 and 4 – slept down the hall.

Thirteen witnesses testified Wednesday, including a handwriting expert called by the defense who maintained that the same person who wrote in Vashti Seacat’s journal also penned her suicide note. Prosecutors, whose own expert had said previously that the handwriting in the journal and note did not match, attempted to discredit the work of the expert called Wednesday.

The proceedings marked the second day of the defense’s case and the 10th day of testimony in the trial; the prosecution rested its case Tuesday morning.

Court reconvenes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Kingman’s historic courthouse.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her onTwitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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