KINGMAN, Kansas — A former Kansas lawman was convicted Tuesday in the death of his wife after a trial in which prosecutors contended the husband, distraught over an impending divorce, killed his wife and set fire to the family's home to destroy evidence as their two young sons slept down the hall.
Jurors found Brett Seacat guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his 34-year-old wife, Vashti Seacat, in their home during the early morning hours of April 30, 2011, just 16 days after she filed for divorce. The jury rejected defense arguments that she committed suicide.
Vashti's mother and brother broke down in court after the verdict.
"It was just a lot of emotions," said Rich Forrest, Vashti's brother. "I want to say this, I thought of a lot of things I wanted to say in these two years and, at the end of the day, all I feel is sadness."
"There was never any doubt in any of our family's minds of his guilt," said Julie Hostetler, Vashti's mother. "But, we loved Brett and accepted him as part of the family, so that's the bittersweet. And we would ask that everyone would remember the Seacat family in their thoughts and in their prayers. It has to be just horrible for them."
Brett Seacat's family showed little emotion as the verdict, but Brett's father started breathing heavily and had a hard time walking out of the courtroom.
"Nobody deserves to be put through what they've been put through, just as nobody deserves to be put through what our family went through," said Forrest. "They're hurting as bad as we are. At the end of the day, they lost a daughter-in-law and a son."
Vashti and Brett's two young sons are now orphaned after this verdict. They're being cared for by family and doing the best they can.
"We try to focus on fun, happy times," said Forrest. "We took them to Riverfest this weekend, just try to give them as normal a childhood as we can."
The Forrest family says the two young boys still do not know about their father's arrest, let alone his conviction. The family is not sure how or when they're going to tell them about it.
Jurors also convicted the 37-year-old Kingman man on a count of aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 5, and prosecutors said they plan to seek a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 50 years.
"We are pleased with today's jury verdict. Our goal throughout this prosecution was to seek justice for Vashti and Vashti's family," said Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley.
"I'm very proud of the verdict returned by this Kingman County jury. More importantly, I'm pleased justice was served in this case. I know this verdict cannot erase what the family has been through, but hopefully, this will help them move forward," said Kingman County Attorney Matthew Ricke.
Prosecutors have portrayed Brett Seacat as a killer who used his law enforcement training to forge a suicide note before shooting his wife.
His attorneys presented a defense case built on the argument that the depressed wife shot herself after setting the house on fire after a bitter argument the previous night during which her husband threatened to expose affairs with her bosses and take their children.
Investigators found Vashti Seacat's body among the charred remains of the Kingman house where the couple lived with their two sons, ages 2 and 4. Brett Seacat, his bare feet burned by the rapidly spreading fire, escaped safely with the two boys.
He was a police instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time, and worked as a Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy before that.
With even the coroner unable to rule the wife's death a homicide due to severe heat damage to her body, prosecutors built their murder case on circumstantial evidence that had been systematically called into question by defense attorneys throughout the trial in a bid to cast doubt among jurors.
The case went to the jury late Monday after 12 days of trial testimony ended with Brett Seacat taking the witness stand on his own behalf.
Seacat told jurors he had slept on the couch that night, until his wife woke him up at 3:51 a.m. with a call to his cellphone from their upstairs bedroom.
"She said you need to come get the boys, or they are going to get hurt," he testified.
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