Brett and Vashti Seacat met about 19 years ago, when they were in high school, at a wrestling tournament at the Kansas Coliseum.
In 2004, they married on the beach in Belize. She was a beautiful bride who had grown up around Argonia and Harper. He was a handsome groom, an Eagle Scout from Kingman.
But by November 2010 – six months before investigators found her burned body with a fatal gunshot wound in their charred Kingman home – the couple was meeting with a marriage counselor. It was a last effort to save their crumbling marriage.
Their marriage counselor, Connie Suderman, noted troubling issues during her testimony in a Kingman court last week.
After a two-day hearing, a judge on Wednesday found enough evidence to order that Brett Seacat be tried on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and aggravated child endangerment, over an early morning fire April 30 in which he escaped with the couple’s two young sons.
Testimony from Suderman and Vashti Seacat’s older sister provided a detailed account of the troubled relationship – a window into the disintegrating marriage.
‘I want Vashti to be happy’
The account begins in November 2010. According to Suderman’s records, an initial information sheet indicated the couple’s differences involved communication and clashes over basic values and beliefs. They had discussed divorce.
Suderman met with the couple together and individually. During the sessions, Brett would say, “I’m OK; I want Vashti to be happy.”
He wasn’t sure counseling would work, but if it pleased Vashti, he would do it. To Suderman, Brett seemed aloof and stiff but sometimes more at ease and communicative.
He could feel that divorce was coming, and he told Suderman that if Vashti divorced him, she divorced the whole family. He had seen how divorce affected children. The couple had two sons, ages 2 and 4.
“He said he would take them (the boys) out of the country, and she wouldn’t see them,” Suderman would testify. “I told him that would be against the law, and that would hurt the children.”
At the time, Brett worked for the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center near Hutchinson. He was a police trainer. His father had a career as a state trooper.
Brett talked about violence and aggression during the sessions.
“He said that he liked violence, that he enjoyed to use it against bad guys,” Suderman testified.
Years before the counseling sessions, a 2002 lawsuit had accused Brett – then a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy – of using excessive force. The lawsuit, later dismissed, claimed that he slammed 50-year-old John Mires against a concrete wall near the booking desk at the Sedgwick County Jail, causing skull fractures and brain damage.
Mires, who was in jail after a DUI arrest, died six days later. Gary Steed, sheriff at the time, was quoted as saying that investigations by the District Attorney’s Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had cleared the deputy.
Years later, the KBI would become the lead investigative agency in Vashti’s death.
Brett had also received praise for his actions as a deputy. In 2006, he and another deputy received the sheriff’s bronze medal of meritorious conduct for a courtroom incident in which they subdued a defendant who shouted and rose from his chair and continued to resist as they tried to remove him from the courtroom.
‘I would never do that’
In the marriage counseling sessions that began in November 2010, Suderman said in her testimony, Brett “said he didn’t believe in hope, that he didn’t think it was something he had.”
He also said “he didn’t like people, that he didn’t need people, that people disappointed you.”
Vashti told the counselor that Brett had been mean to her family and that he isolated her from friends and family.
To Suderman, Vashti – who worked in human resources for Cox Communications in Wichita – had taken steps to feel better, to deal with her depression. She was losing weight. Her appetite had improved. She was reconnecting with family and friends.
As part of the standard procedures for evaluating risks, Suderman had asked Vashti whether she had any suicidal thoughts. Suderman ruled out that Vashti might be suicidal.
“I would never do that to my children,” Suderman said Vashti had told her.
Vashti had concerns about how Brett would respond if she went through with a divorce, and Suderman questioned her about her safety.
Around February, Brett told Vashti he had dreamed about killing her.
“Vashti noted that Brett has threatened that if she ever cheated on him, he would kill her,” Suderman testified. Other testimony said that in April, about three weeks before her death, Vashti was sexually intimate with a friend one evening. She filed for divorce a few days after that.
Vashti told Suderman that Brett had never physically hurt her, so she didn’t think he would harm her.
She had always been able to “talk him down.” She said his threats were “just big talk.”
In the hours after the early-morning fire on April 30, Brett spoke by phone to Suderman. He had been seeking advice on how to tell his sons that their mother was dead.
One thing he said alarmed Suderman, so she wrote it down: “I killed her. Vashti is dead, and it is my fault.” But he went on to tell the counselor: “I told Vashti that I would take the kids out of the country,” that he had been asleep on the couch when she called from upstairs, that she set the second floor on fire and shot herself.
To Suderman, Brett seemed calm on the phone, not overcome.
About 11 days after the fire, he went to the home of Kathleen Forrest, Vashti’s older sister, and told her he wanted her to raise Vashti’s children, Forrest would testify.
Forrest had a poster-size picture of Vashti in her home, and after Brett looked it, she recalled, he said “he was pretty much over it, and he was angry at her.”
“He had moved on.”