Jurors on Tuesday convicted Brett Seacat of murdering his wife, more than two years after she was fatally shot and their Kingman home set ablaze.
The verdict came about 3 p.m. after roughly six hours of deliberation Tuesday. Seacat, 37, was also convicted of aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment, all linked to the April 30, 2011, death of 34-year-old Vashti Seacat and a fire that destroyed the couple’s house while their young sons, then 2 and 4, were inside.
Prosecutors are asking for the “Hard 50” sentence, which is life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years. Sentencing for Seacat is set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 5. He remains in Kingman County Jail without bond.
Julie Hostetler, Vashti Seacat’s mother, referred to the ruling as “bittersweet relief.”
“This was like a two-edged sword,” said Hostetler, who now cares for Vashti Seacat’s boys. “We’ve known Brett since he was 16. We accepted him and loved him as part of the family.
“So although justice was served – and he’s where he needed to be – it’s still bittersweet.”
Defense attorney Roger Falk did not comment after court but promised an appeal. After the verdict was read, he had leaned over a barrier separating the gallery from the rest of the courtroom and softly told his client’s parents and brother, “I am sorry.”
Seacat’s parents – visibly distraught after the verdict – left the courthouse quietly and drove away without comment. Seacat’s father was so shaken that he had difficulty walking and had to be helped into a waiting van.
Jurors also asked not to be interviewed.
Assistant Kansas Attorney General Amy Hanley, part of a team of prosecutors, read a short statement to reporters saying the prosecution was pleased with the verdict.
“Our goal throughout this prosecution was to seek justice for Vashti and Vashti’s family,” Hanley said. “The jury returned a verdict that achieved that goal. We also believe that we presented a fair case that will stand up on appeal.”
Kingman County Attorney Matthew Ricke said he was proud of the verdict returned by the jury.
“More importantly, I am pleased that justice was served in this case,” Ricke said. “I know this verdict cannot erase the pain the family has been through, but hopefully this will help them move forward.”
‘Her good name is cleared’
Throughout the trial, prosecutors contended Seacat – a former sheriff’s deputy skilled in crime-scene investigations and interrogation tactics – plotted to shoot and kill his wife to stop her from divorcing him and then torched their home to destroy the evidence.
Seacat claims Vashti Seacat, indecisive about their pending divorce, suffered bouts of depression and committed suicide after he threatened to wreck her career and take away her boys. He maintains she set the house on fire before she killed herself.
The coroner could not determine whether Vashti Seacat’s death was a homicide or suicide, which left jurors weighing 12 days of witness testimony and dozens of pieces of circumstantial evidence to decide Seacat’s fate.
Jurors, who were handed the case late Monday afternoon, took just more than six hours to deliver a unanimous decision.
“Ladies and gentlemen, have you reached a verdict?” Kingman County District Court Judge Larry Solomon asked.
“Yes, we have your honor,” the presiding juror replied.
“Mr. Seacat, if you would stand, sir.”
Some of the jurors watched the judge as he read their findings. Others peered at Seacat.
When asked whether the verdict was unanimous, one of the 12 jurors – which included seven men and five women – paused to choke back tears before answering, “Yes.”
After the ruling Tuesday, Brett Seacat was silent when shackled by law enforcement, and with hands folded he stared ahead when escorted out by deputies. He didn’t look at his parents or brother, Bobby Seacat.
Vashti Seacat’s family shared “a lot of tears and holding hands” but few words when the verdict was read, her brother, Rich Forrest, said.
He added that the family’s focus now is “getting back to normal” but that peace isn’t yet within reach.
“The only sense of closure it brings to me is that her good name is cleared,” Rich Forrest said, referring to the defense’s claims that his sister had had multiple affairs where she worked, Cox Communications in Wichita, and committed suicide.
“At least people will know she’s a good person.”
Kathleen Forrest, Vashti’s sister and a constant throughout the trial, was not at the courthouse Tuesday. Family members said she felt overwhelmed after the trial, which began May 20, and chose to watch a live broadcast of the verdict on TV instead.
The courthouse was mostly quiet on Tuesday after jurors stepped behind locked doors at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the case. A few spectators sat in the courtroom gallery as the judge waited in his chambers; law enforcement and attorneys milled about.
Outside, news media spent part of the morning positioning TV cameras and lighting on the courthouse lawn. Reporters from local and national news outlets had flocked to Kingman, a quiet town of about 3,100.
CNN set up a tent and chairs on the courthouse lawn. A producer from NBC’s “Dateline” sat daily among local newspaper reporters taking notes while court was in session. ABC News, the Associated Press and other major news outlets also covered the trial.
A block north, the Seacats’ fire-scorched home – once a stately three-story house the couple apparently was working to restore – remains on East B Avenue. The city of Kingman condemned the property but delayed demolition plans last year at the request of Seacat’s attorneys.
The city has yet to tear it down.
Contributing: Associated Press