The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the murder conviction of former Sedgwick County sheriff’s Deputy Brett Seacat in the death of his wife in Kingman in 2011.
Police responding to the report of a fire and possible shooting at the Seacat residence on April 30, 2011, found the second floor of the house in flames. Seacat, who was standing in the backyard by the driveway, told a police officer that his wife, Vashti, was inside the house and that she had shot herself in the head.
After the fire was extinguished, firefighters discovered Vashti Seacat lying dead on her bed on the second floor, the victim of a gunshot wound to the head. About two weeks later, Brett Seacat, an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time of his arrest, was charged with premeditated first-degree murder, one count of aggravated arson, and two counts of aggravated endangering a child, based on the presence of the couple’s two sons in the house at the time of the fire.
At the 2013 trial, Seacat contended his wife committed suicide because she was depressed about their collapsing marriage and the prospect of not seeing her children if he took them.
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After a 12-day trial, the jury found Seacat guilty on all four counts. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years on the murder conviction, as well as just more than five years for the aggravated arson conviction and seven months for each child endangerment conviction. The sentences are to run consecutively.
In weighing Seacat’s appeal, the Supreme Court considered the admissibility of various out-of-court statements that Vashti Seacat made when she told co-workers and her therapist that her husband threatened to kill her by burning down their house and making her death appear to be a suicide.
The court determined that the out-of-court statements were properly admitted, either because they were not hearsay or because they satisfied an exception to the hearsay rule.
The court next considered whether evidence that Brett Seacat sought to introduce relating to a purported history of suicidal tendencies by his deceased wife had been incorrectly excluded. The Supreme Court agreed with the Kingman County judge that the evidence was too remote to be relevant to the wife’s state of mind at the time of her death.
The Supreme Court also upheld the trial court’s refusal to admit evidence of legal and illegal drug use by Vashti Seacat. The court also found no error in the admission of testimony by a witness referring to Brett Seacat’s narcissistic personality.
Justice Lee Johnson authored a concurrent opinion, also signed by Justice Marla Luckert, that took issue with the majority’s characterization of an out-of-court statement as not being hearsay and with the majority’s holding that evidence of earlier suicidal tendencies was not relevant.
But Johnson and Luckert affirmed the convictions, saying other evidence in the case was so strong a jury would have convicted Seacat even if the excluded evidence had been allowed.