A fire, a body, a murder trial in Kingman after more than two years

05/19/2013 1:17 PM

08/08/2014 10:17 AM

On Monday, two years and 20 days after Vashti Forrest Seacat’s body was found in the charred remains of her Kingman home, attorneys will start picking jurors who will be asked to decide between two arguments already raised in court:

That the 34-year-old woman’s husband, Brett Seacat, a law enforcement trainer and former Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy, shot and killed her and set fire to their home, or that she started the blaze and then shot herself.

Felicia Ryder, who organized a candlelight vigil to remember Vashti Seacat soon after the tragedy, said that Brett Seacat’s first-degree murder trial will offer closure for the town. The case has been weighing on people, and the big old house where it all happened – now vacant and boarded up – is part of that weight, Ryder said.

“We would love to have the house (torn) down,” Ryder said. “It’s just a remembrance every time you go by. It just takes you right back again.”

Ryder said she wants to attend the trial, but she might have a hard time getting a seat in the cramped courtroom in the town’s historic courthouse. Part of the reason she wants to be there is for Vashti Seacat’s family, she said.

“They’re going to need support,” she said. “I just feel bad for them. It’s tragic.”

Vashti Seacat’s relatives have described her as a woman who had a successful career, in human resources for Cox Communications in Wichita, and doted on her two young sons. She had been redecorating her home; she had vacation plans. She also had filed for divorce.

One of Brett Seacat’s attorneys, Roger Falk, said Friday that the court had a “gag order” in place and that he couldn’t comment. Brett Seacat’s family couldn’t be reached for comment, but Vashti Seacat’s siblings shared some of their feelings.

Kathleen Forrest, Vashti Seacat’s older sister, said Friday, “What people don’t realize is that for us, time has stood still. Two years ago it stood still.”

When you love someone so much and that person is “jerked from their life unexpectedly … you can’t move on,” she said.

“The pain is beyond what anybody can even imagine.”

Rich Forrest, Vashti Seacat’s older brother, said it’s understandable that the case has drawn not just local but national media attention as well “because of the dynamics of everything that the case has. It’s a very sensational case. You’ve got a police officer, two attractive individuals, a divorce, gun, fire and children.”

In November 2011, Kathleen Forrest testified at a preliminary hearing that her sister feared her husband before and after she filed for divorce. Although Brett Seacat had been ordered to vacate the home and pay child support, he has said they were still living together as a family despite their marital problems. The divorce filing came 16 days before Vashti Seacat’s body was found in the charred remains of their home.

In a fire on April 30, 2011, Brett Seacat made it out of their two-story home with the couple’s 2- and 4-year-old sons, who had been sleeping down the hall from their mother. Investigators found a melted gas can on the bed where they found Vashti Seacat’s body. Under her body was a .44-caliber pistol.

An investigator testified that Brett Seacat said his wife struggled with depression. A coroner testified that although Vashti Seacat died from a gunshot wound, it couldn’t be determined whether it was a homicide or suicide because of fire damage to the body.

The Hutchinson News reported last week that Brett Seacat’s attorneys say he will testify during the trial – which could last about three weeks – that Vashti Seacat had previously set three fires, but prosecutors argue there is no evidence backing the claims.

Brett Seacat, who had trained police recruits in his job with the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center after working as a security deputy in Sedgwick County courtrooms, has remained in the Kingman County Jail on a $1 million bond since May 2011.

Rich Forrest, Vashti Seacat’s brother, said that while he understands why it has taken more than two years to bring the case to trial, it “does not diminish the frustration” of waiting.

One thing he is wrestling with now, he said, is what to do if photos of his sister’s body are shown in the courtroom. On one hand, he said, he would want to see them, to understand what happened. On the other hand, he said, seeing them might be too painful.

Chief Judge Larry Solomon, who will hold the trial, has ordered media to follow detailed rules while covering the trial. Part of his order is that “Real time recording and transmission of trial accounts by tweets, texts, or other means is strictly prohibited.”

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