The trial of Brett Seacat, a former sheriff’s deputy accused of killing his wife and setting fire to their home, has been delayed until Dec. 3 and will be tried in Kingman at Seacat’s request.
Kingman County District Court Judge Larry Solomon granted the defense’s request Tuesday to continue the trial so investigators can consider additional issues recently raised by Seacat and to “investigate loose ends,” said Roger Falk, one of Seacat’s attorneys. The announcement came after the first day of pretrial arguments, which are set to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. today.
This is the second time the trial has been delayed. It was moved to Aug. 20 from its original date of April 23.
Falk also explained the defense’s decision not to seek a change of venue, saying Seacat asked to be tried in Kingman – his hometown – where “people know him, and he’s not just another person charged with a crime.” “He has made an informed decision and we are respecting those wishes,” said Falk, who is representing Seacat along with Val Wachtel.
Seacat, 36, is charged with first-degree murder in the April 2011 shooting death of his wife, Vashti. He was working as an instructor for the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time. He previously worked as a Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputy.
He is also charged with aggravated arson and two counts of aggravated child endangerment for allegedly setting fire to the couple’s Kingman home while their two sons – 2 and 4 – slept down the hall. He pleaded not guilty in January.
Today the judge is expected to hear requests by defense attorneys to exclude statements Brett Seacat made to law enforcement during the investigation.
On Tuesday, Solomon quickly ruled on 22 motions presented by both prosecutors and defense attorneys. Among those he denied was a move by the defense to strike testimony from therapist Connie Suderman, who provided marriage counseling to the Seacats in the months leading up to her death.
Vashti Seacat, who worked for Cox Communications in Wichita, had filed for divorce 16 days before her death. Her husband was still living in the home the morning she died.
During a preliminary hearing in November, Suderman recounted her impressions of the couple and disclosed statements from their counseling sessions. Of particular concern Tuesday was a phone call Suderman said she received from Brett Seacat, who was seeking advice on how to tell the couple’s two young sons that their mother was dead.
Suderman claims Seacat said, “I killed her. Vashti is dead, and it is my fault.” He then explained that he told Vashti he “would take the kids out of the country” if she left him, Suderman said.
Falk on Tuesday argued Seacat’s statements were taken out of context. Prosecutors asked the judge to allow Suderman’s testimony so jury members could “interpret these statements on their own,” said assistant state attorney general Amy Hanley.
Solomon called Suderman’s testimony “factual as to what she perceived occurred during either the marriage counseling sessions or after Ms. Seacat was found deceased.”
The judge also ruled prosecutors must provide the defense with witnesses’ mental health records and personnel files already in the state’s possession, if the information could be beneficial to Seacat’s case. Falk said the defense was particularly interested in Vashti Seacat’s mental health records to support its claim she committed suicide last April after setting her house on fire.
A coroner testified in November that she could not rule Vashti Seacat’s death a homicide due to severe heat damage to her body. Investigators found her remains on a bed next to a melted gasoline can. They also found a .44-caliber pistol under her body.
“It’s our understanding that there have been at least four other suicide attempts, and following at least one of the attempts she was in therapy for an extended period of time,” Falk said Tuesday.
Brett Seacat faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years, if convicted of first-degree murder. He remains in Kingman County Jail on $1 million bond.