Crime & Courts

August 4, 2013

Brett Seacat to be sentenced Monday in wife’s killing

On Monday, more than two years after his wife’s death, Brett Seacat will hear her family and friends – and likely his own – plead with a judge to impose a reasonable prison term.

On Monday, more than two years after his wife’s death, Brett Seacat will hear her family and friends – and likely his own – plead with a judge to impose a reasonable prison term.

Vashti Seacat’s brother says he plans to ask for the maximum sentence allowable under law for his sister’s death.

“The arson, the child endangerment and a murder – the combination of all those things is very indicative of someone that needs to be behind bars as long as we can keep them behind bars,” Rich Forrest said.

Others, however, are expected to ask for leniency before a sentence is handed down.

Brett Seacat, a former law enforcement officer and police instructor, faces sentencing Monday in the first-degree murder of 34-year-old Vashti Seacat, who was fatally shot in her bedroom in April 2011. A Kingman County jury convicted Seacat of the charge in June, as well as aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment connected to her death.

Under state law, Seacat faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison on the murder charge and will not be eligible for parole for at least 25 years. He also faces a presumptive prison term of 147 to 165 months — more than 12 years — on the arson charge, his attorney said Friday, and 31 to 34 months for each count of endangerment. The sentences may be imposed concurrently or consecutively.

If given credit for the two years he has served while awaiting trial, Seacat – now 37 – will be at least 60 before he is eligible for parole.

Seacat, his attorney said, continues to maintain his innocence.

“I really don’t know what to expect during the sentencing,” said defense attorney Roger Falk, who has represented Seacat for the duration of his case.

"Regardless of what happens (on Monday), Mr. Seacat will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison unless he is successful upon appeal.”

The crime and trial

After weighing 12 days of witness testimony and dozens of pieces of evidence – including the revolver that discharged the fatal shot and a suicide note prosecutors say Brett Seacat forged – jurors handed down the guilty verdict. It took just six hours of deliberations.

Prosecutors argued during the trial that in the days before Vashti Seacat’s death, her husband plotted to kill her after she filed for divorce. The night she died, they maintained, he shot her while she slept then set the house afire while their young sons were inside to cover up the crime.

Brett Seacat, however, testified at trial that a depressed Vashti Seacat pleaded with him by phone that night “to get the boys out of the house,” then ignited the blaze and committed suicide in her upstairs bedroom.

Following his conviction, prosecutors asked for the Hard 50 – life without parole for 50 years – on the murder charge. But two days after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling many think invalidates the state’s Hard 50 law, the Attorney General’s Office withdrew its request.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wrote in the June 19 filing that after reviewing the high court’s decision, “the state does not believe the procedural and factual posture of this case allow for the application of (the Hard 50 law) in its current form.”

The high court’s ruling said juries, not judges, were responsible for weighing facts the of a trial that may justify increasing minimum sentences.

“We’re disappointed and apprehensive that the Hard 50 (sentence) has been taken off the table,” Vashti’s brother, Rich Forrest, said when asked to share his feelings about Monday’s hearing. He said he and other family members plan to address the judge during Monday’s proceedings.

“We hope that he sees fit to impose the maximum sentence,” Forrest said.

Efforts to reach Brett Seacat’s parents for comment were unsuccessful.

Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley, one of four prosecutors in the case, declined to comment on Monday’s proceeding until Seacat’s sentence was imposed.

Appeals process

Falk said he plans to file Seacat’s notice of appeal following Monday’s sentencing. It could be years, Falk said, before the former law enforcement officer knows whether he will be granted a new trial.

“Two years, at minimum,” Falk said cautiously. He noted that extensions are often granted in appellate court.

“I certainly wouldn’t advise Mr. Seacat to stop the appeals in this case until such time that he’s released,” Falk said.

He added: “On a case where you’re looking at spending the rest of your life in prison, there’s no reason not to seek some relief.”

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