Jurors in the murder trial of Brett Seacat watched a video Thursday of the April 30, 2011, fire that quickly engulfed the upper story of his Kingman home, bursting through the windows on the back of the house before crawling up and over the rooftop.
They also heard two loud popping sounds come from the engulfed home, followed by more popping sounds, and a man could be heard saying “something’s going off” and that there were “fireworks in the house.”
Shawn Harbert testified he and a friend were walking on Pine Street in Kingman when they smelled smoke and saw the fire. He captured the blaze on video with his cellphone.
Firefighters who quickly arrived poured water from a hose onto the southeast side of the home, where 34-year-old Vashti Seacat was found shot to death after the fire.
Her husband, former Kansas police instructor Brett Seacat, faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and two counts of aggravated endangering a child. Prosecutors allege he shot his wife – less than three days after being served with divorce papers – and set fire to the second story of the home to cover up the crime.
Brett Seacat, a former Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy, was a Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center instructor at the time of his wife’s death. He escaped the blaze with the couple’s two young sons, then ages 2 and 4. His attorneys argued Wednesday during opening statements that it was Vashti Seacat who set the fire before committing suicide.
As the jury watched the video of the fire, Brett Seacat talked to his attorneys. Several of Vashti Seacat’s family members, seated on the opposite side of the courtroom from Brett Seacat’s family, wiped away tears.
Vashti Seacat’s mother, Julie Hostetler, identified a photo of her daughter from April 2011 and testified her daughter lived in the Kingman home for a little more than three years.
Kingman Fire Chief Steve Drosselmeyer testified that when he responded to the fire between 3 and 4 a.m., the entire second story on the back side of the home was engulfed in flames that spread over the roof instead of under it. The home was “long beyond the stage” of putting firefighters inside.
Because he thought the popping sounds were ammunition, the crews fought the blaze from the exterior before a few firefighters, include Drosselmeyer, broke through a locked front door and entered later.
He testified the doors to the three bedrooms upstairs were closed, and he knocked out a panel of the door to look into the master bedroom. He said Brett Seacat had told Kingman police Sgt. Travis Sowers that Vashti Seacat was in that bedroom and had shot herself. Drosselmeyer said he saw what he thought was a figure on the bed, but the entire room was black.
Sowers, the first officer on the scene, testified he walked along the west side of the house and first saw fire on the southwest corner of the second story that spread to the southeast corner, where the master bedroom was.
When asked to do so by Amy Hanley, assistant Kansas attorney general, Sowers pointed to a map of the house to show the jury how the fire spread.
Under cross-examination by Roger Falk, Brett Seacat’s attorney, Sowers acknowledged that he told Kingman Police Chief Marc Holloway at the scene that the only part of the house engulfed in flames was where Vashti Seacat was, the bedroom on the southeast corner of the home.
Falk also indicated that when the defense presents its case, he plans to play an audiotape Sowers left on during a law enforcement briefing the day of the fire.