Smiling at times, Brett Seacat spoke freely about the morning before his wife, 34-year-old Vashti Seacat, died.
"It started like any other day," he told a jury Thursday. "I woke up. I got the kids ready for daycare. Vashti got ready for work."
Before she and their sons left – it was about 6:30 a.m. – Seacat said his wife even kissed him goodbye.
“She said, ‘See you at night,’ and actually gave me a big kiss, which I thought was odd,” Seacat testified.
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Why, defense attorney Roger Falk asked.
“In the last week, or week and a half, we had been back and forth about 50 times on divorce. So when we went to bed that night, I thought we were still talking divorce,” he said.
Seacat appeared calm – even making brief jokes at times – as he took the stand Thursday afternoon to testify in his own defense. He is accused of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his wife and aggravated arson for allegedly setting fire to their Kingman home to cover up the crime.
His defense is arguing a depressed Vashti Seacat set the house ablaze on April 30, 2011, then committed suicide in her second-floor bedroom as her two young sons – then 2 and 4 – slept down the hall.
Seacat was called to the stand by his attorneys at around 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, the 11th day of the trial. He is expected to continue his testimony Friday.
Court reconvenes at 8:30 a.m. Kingman County District Judge Larry Solomon is presiding.
During the first hour of testimony Thursday, Seacat recounted his law enforcement career – he is a former Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy and Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center instructor – and told the court that his wife seemed uncertain the couple’s split was imminent, even though she had filed for divorce about two weeks before.
“Divorce, reconciliation, staying together, splitting up, divorce,” Seacat testified, recalling a dinner conversation with his wife on April 27, 2011, immediately after he was served with divorce papers.
“It went round and round,” Seacat said of the conversation. “ Every 10 minutes it seemed like Vashti was pursuing a different angle.
“It was a long, really confusing negotiation.”
Then the kiss happened two days later, Seacat said – on the last morning Vashti Seacat was alive.
“It led me to think the not-divorce track,” he testified.
Also during his testimony Thursday, Seacat explained that he melted two laptop hard drives after he arrived at work that day to protect against identify theft once he sold the machines.
“I was going to put a new hard drive in them,” said Seacat, adding that he had previously wanted to replace the components but hastened his plans after learning Vashti Seacat had filed for divorce.
“I thought I might have a divorce coming up, and I thought I might need some money,” he said.
Seacat testified that after melting the hard drives with a torch in front of some KLETC shop employees, he doused them with tapwater then tossed them into a trash can near a KLETC entrance. The hard drives, as well as two cellphones Seacat also threw away that day, were later recovered and presented as evidence at the trial.
A witness who had previously testified told the jury the hard drives were found in two different trash cans.
In other testimony Thursday:
• Kathleen Forrest testified that she did not know for certain whether her sister, Vashti, had taken an injectable form of HCG, a human hormone sometimes used to aid weight loss.
Earlier this week, the co-owner of a medical spa told the court she met with Vashti Seacat twice in 2010 and prescribed her an oral form of the hormone. Vials of injectable HCG, syringes and a label from a purportedly homeopathic form were recovered at the Seacat home by a private investigator hired by the defense.
Forrest said Thursday that she bought a gift card to a medical spa for Vashti, but didn’t give her sister packages of the hormone.
• Expert witness Gene Gietzen told the jury that a pair of pants Seacat wore the night of the fire were improperly packaged for arson analysis immediately after they were collected by law enforcement.
Gietzen said according to a Kansas Bureau of Investigation forensic scientist’s notes that the pants were “Not sealed properly for fire-debris analysis” before they were tested for accelerants by the KBI about 22 months after the fire. Gietzen testified that improper storage can cause contamination or substances to evaporate off evidence, thereby compromising the outcome of testing.
According to testimony given earlier in the trial, the KBI found gasoline on the pants during testing.
Media attention in the case has grown to the national level.
A CNN crew has set up a tent and chairs on the lawn of the Kingman County Courthouse. A representative from NBC’s “Dateline” sits daily among local newspaper reporters in the courtroom. ABC News, the Associated Press and other major news outlets are also covering the trial.