November 29, 2011

Sister testifies in Kingman hearing: Victim feared her husband

Vashti Seacat feared her husband, Brett Seacat, before and after she filed for divorce, which came 16 days before her body was found in the charred remains of their home.

Vashti Seacat feared her husband, Brett Seacat, before and after she filed for divorce, which came 16 days before her body was found in the charred remains of their home.

That was some of Tuesday’s emotional testimony from Kathleen Forrest, who described her younger sister as her best friend. The two sisters communicated several times a week, and the last time her sister voiced her fear was two days before she died in April, Forrest said in court where a preliminary hearing for Brett Seacat resumes this morning.

Brett Seacat, a former Sedgwick County deputy and a law enforcement trainer at the time of his wife’s death, is facing charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and two counts of aggravated child endangerment. He made it out of the two-story house with the couple’s 2- and 4-year-old sons.

Vashti Seacat, 34, told her sister about an ominous dream her husband had in February, before the divorce action, Forrest said. She testified that her sister told her that Brett Seacat had been moving around in his sleep and said he dreamed about killing her. It was part of the reason her sister was afraid, Forrest said.

Within two hours of the early morning fire, Forrest heard Brett Seacat tell her husband on a speaker phone that “Vashti killed herself, then set the house on fire.” In disbelief, Forrest said, she blurted out: “I just spoke to her. She bought us concert tickets. We’re going to Mexico.”

The sisters had all kinds of fun planned. Vashti Seacat, who worked for Cox Communications, had been busy remodeling and redecorating her home.

In early April, about three weeks before she died, Vashti Seacat had become intimate with a friend, and she worried about her husband finding out and reacting to it, Forrest testified.

An explanation

Earlier Tuesday, John Green, an associate director of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, where Brett Seacat worked, said Seacat came into the center a few days after the fire and told Green and another center official that he owed them an explanation. Seacat said his wife had filed for divorce, that he was still living at home and that they had been discussing how to have a mutual divorce rather than taking it to court, Green testified.

The night of the fire, the couple had a fight over what the mutual agreement should be, and Seacat said he “backed her into a corner” and told her that if she didn’t agree, he would take their young sons and she’d never see them again, and she was very upset, Green recalled on the witness stand.

Brett Seacat told Green he ended up asleep on a downstairs couch and awoke to a phone call from his wife around 3 a.m. He said he was disoriented because he didn’t know where his wife was calling from, and that she told him that if he wanted to have the boys, he needed to come get them.

Then, Green testified, Seacat said he heard noises upstairs, including a popping sound, then a loud boom. Rushing upstairs, Seacat said, he found the master bedroom on fire and his wife lying on the bed. When he went to pick her up, her body was limp and lifeless and there was blood on the mattress, Seacat told them, Green said. Seacat said he then went to get his sons and took them outside to a car and went back to try to get to his wife but couldn’t because of the growing fire.

A handwritten note

Another witness, Karen Roberts, said Seacat did something a little odd the day before the fire: She was working as an administrative assistant at the law enforcement training center where Seacat worked, and he asked her whether she would help him retrieve an overhead projector. That type of device is not commonly used anymore, Roberts said.

Later, the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Travis Harrod, seemed to suggest in his questioning that the projector could have been used by Seacat as a means of tracing handwriting to create a suicide note that could be tied to his wife.

KBI Special Agent Chris Turner said he found a black-bound journal in the front seat of the car where the boys had been placed the morning of the fire. In the journal was an entry he described as a suicide note.

In court Tuesday, District Judge Larry Solomon noted that a handwriting analysis found that the note didn’t appear to be naturally prepared, that it bore questionable writing, as if someone was doing it slowly, deliberately, “with patching” and “tremors.”

Questioning by Seacat’s defense attorney, Roger Falk, disclosed that the note said, “Brett I can’t do this. I can’t fight this out. Take care of our boys. … Tell them Mommy loves them every night.”

‘She’s shot herself’

After the fire, investigators found a melted gas can on the bed where they found Vashti Seacat’s body, said KBI Senior Special Agent Brian Carroll. Under her body was a .44-caliber pistol; on a dresser, a .32-caliber handgun.

Earlier Tuesday, Kingman police Sgt. Travis Sowers testified that he saw flames in the house and heard windows breaking from the heat of the fire when he responded to the scene. Sowers said Seacat’s “exact words were, ‘She’s dead, she’s shot herself.’ ”

During an interview later the morning of the fire, Seacat said there had been two handguns in the master bedroom, including a .44-caliber pistol, Kingman Police Chief Marc Holloway testified. Seacat also said his wife struggled with depression, and that she asked him, after watching an episode of the TV show “Castle,” whether a .44-caliber gun would be a good firearm to commit suicide with, Holloway said.

That same morning, Holloway said, he could hear a phone call between Seacat and someone else in which Seacat said more than once that he had not killed his wife.

The Kingman County courtroom filled up with family members Tuesday, mainly relatives of Vashti Seacat. A producer with Dateline NBC was in court observing.

Prosecutors so far have declined to say publicly how Vashti Seacat died. The autopsy report has been sealed.

A preliminary hearing is where prosecutors have the burden of presenting enough evidence to convince a judge that the case should go to trial. The evidence is considered in a light most favorable to the prosecution.

The preliminary hearing will resume at 9 a.m. today.

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