Defense rests in Brett Seacat case; closing arguments set for Monday

06/07/2013 8:35 AM

08/08/2014 10:17 AM

Attorneys for Brett Seacat rested their case Friday afternoon after nearly a full day of testimony by the former law enforcement officer who is accused of killing his wife and torching their Kingman home.

In a quick-paced and pointed cross-examination, Assistant Kansas Attorney General Amy Hanley picked apart Seacat’s testimony, focusing extensively on his actions on April 29, 2011, the day before Vashti Seacat’s death and the fire.

Brett Seacat, a former Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy and police instructor, rarely faltered on the stand.

“How big is the magnifying glass” you needed? Hanley asked after placing on the witness stand the overhead projector prosecutors allege Seacat used to forge his wife’s suicide note.

Seacat told the jury Thursday that he retrieved the machine from storage at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center because he needed a magnifying glass to inspect a Social Security card he had forged for training.

“So you needed this whole thing for the magnifying glass?”

Yes, he said.

When Hanley asked him to show her where the magnifier was located, Seacat pointed to the projector’s head.

“Is there a magnifying glass that you see?” she asked.

“No.”

“Was there one when you used it?”

“Oh, yes,” Seacat replied.

The exchange continued for about an hour Friday. Hanley also focused on Seacat’s seven-hour interview with KBI agents before his arrest, as well as the training he had received as a law enforcement officer.

At the close of testimony, Hanley asked Seacat pointedly whether he killed his wife.

“No, ma’am,” Seacat responded, his tone stern.

“You burned down the house, didn’t you?” she asked.

“I would never burn our house.”

“You set the house on fire, endangering your children as they slept down the hall, didn’t you?” Hanley said.

“Absolutely not. I would never expose my children to any situation like that,” Seacat replied.

Seacat, who provided carefully worded responses and corrected Hanley when he didn’t agree with her statements, finished his testimony at 3:40 p.m. Court recessed for the day shortly after 4 p.m.

Jurors are due back at 11 a.m. Monday; closing arguments are set for 1 p.m. Kingman Court District Court Judge Larry Solomon told the jurors before they left the courtroom that he expects to hand the case over for deliberation before 5 p.m. Monday.

Seacat, 37, is charged with first-degree murder in Vashti Seacat’s 2011 death; he also faces a charge of aggravated arson and two counts of aggravated child endangerment for allegedly setting their house on fire while the couple’s two sons – then ages 2 and 4 – slept down the hall from their mother’s upstairs bedroom. She had recently filed for divorce.

The defense maintains that a depressed Vashti Seacat, 34, ignited the blaze and then shot herself in her bedroom. Fire damage to her body prevented a coroner from determining whether her death was a homicide.

Felt responsible

Seacat, who others have testified seemed detached after his wife’s death, showed some emotion in the courtroom Friday. His voice wavered as he told jurors he felt responsible for his wife’s death – not because he pulled the trigger of the gun that killed her but because he had threatened to wreck her career and take away her sons if they got divorced.

Asked whether he told marriage counselor Connie Suderman by phone the morning Vashti Seacat died that he had killed his wife, Brett Seacat said no. He added: “I told her, ‘Vashti’s dead. It’s my fault.’ ”

“Why did you tell her that it was your fault?” defense attorney Roger Falk asked, referring to the conversation that took place while Seacat was at Kingman County’s law enforcement center, located in the same building as the county jail.

“Because it was.”

Seacat bowed his head. He appeared choked up.

Why was it your fault? Falk pressed.

“For 19 years, I was the one who protected Vashti, and I finally pushed her into what I was protecting her from,” he replied. “So it was my fault.”

Suderman, who had provided counseling to the couple, had testified earlier in the trial that Seacat said, “I killed her. Vashti is dead, and it’s my fault” during that phone conversation the morning Vashti Seacat died.

Seacat told the jury Friday that just hours before his wife died, he threatened to expose multiple affairs she allegedly had with co-workers at Cox Communications and to publish “a great many private photographs of her” if she proceeded with a divorce.

Says wife called

Seacat said that before his wife died, she called his cellphone and warned him the “boys would be hurt” if he didn’t get them out of the house.

He said he later learned the time – 3:51 a.m. – from cellphone records. But that night in 2011, all he could do was wonder where his wife was when she issued the plea.

“The phone rang. I was laying sideways on the couch and the phone was on the arm of the chair,” Seacat said, recounting his version of the events of that night. “I remember reaching over the top of my head” and picking up the cellphone, he said.

When he saw “Vash-cell” displayed on its screen, “I answered the phone. I think all I said was, ‘Hello?’ and the first thing Vashti said was, ‘Are you awake?’ ”

Seacat said that when he said yes, she told him: “You need to come get the boys.”

Seacat testified he got off the downstairs living room couch where he had fallen asleep after putting the boys to bed earlier that night. He looked out the window to see whether Vashti’s Volkswagen was in the driveway but didn’t verbally respond to her request to collect their sons.

“The next thing she said was, ‘You need to come get the boys or they’re going to get hurt.’ ” Seacat said he didn’t recall her exact wording.

But he rushed up the stairs – again without words to his wife – when he heard loud creaking from overhead and “the first pop, the first bang.”

Seacat testified that when he reached the top of the stairs, he saw fire spilling from around the frame of the master bedroom’s closed door. When he opened it and saw his wife lying on her back, flames flickering about her bed, he rushed to her side.

He walked through fire, he testified. Not in the fire.

The severity of the burns Brett Seacat reportedly sustained the night of the fire have been called into question during the trial.

“I reached over with my left hand and I grabbed Vashti’s right shoulder I think with my right hand,” then under her right side, he said.

“I lifted her up, and immediately I think the first thing I noticed was there’s no resistance here at all. When I pulled her up she seemed to double over at the waist and her head flopped back,” he said.

That’s when he first saw blood trickling from the left corner of her mouth, he said, and the pool of blood on the bed.

“I still remember it clear as that night,” Seacat told the jury. “I heard a voice in my head – my voice in my head – ‘Dead. Vashti’s dead. The boys are in the house. House is on fire. Vashti is dead.’

“I immediately started heading for the boys,” he said.

The entire time, Seacat said, he was holding his cellphone. He didn’t disconnect the phone call from his wife, he told the jury, until he and the boys had escaped the house and he dialed 911.

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