KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — Jurors began deliberations Monday in the first-degree murder case against a former Kansas lawman accused of killing his wife and setting their house on fire while their young sons slept down the hall.
Prosecutors in closing arguments Monday portrayed Brett Seacat, 37, as a manipulative man who used his law enforcement background to make it look like his wife shot herself. The defense tried to cast reasonable doubt by repeatedly pointing out that even an experienced coroner couldn’t decide whether the death was suicide or homicide.
The prevailing argument will determine whether jurors can reach a verdict on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment in the April 30, 2011 shooting death of 34-year-old Vashti Seacat. Jurors met for a half hour Monday and are expected to resume deliberations Tuesday.
Seacat is a former Sedgwick County deputy who was an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center when his wife’s body was found.
Prosecutors cited witness testimony that Vashti Seacat was happy on the day of her death and was making plans for her future after having filed for divorce just 16 days earlier. She had just paid for a parenting class as part of the divorce proceedings, bought concert tickets and made hotel reservations for an upcoming trip.
Prosecutor Amy Hanley told jurors Vashti Seacat wouldn’t have endangered the couple’s two young sons, ages 2 and 4, by setting fire to the house.
But the defense recounted her multiple bouts of depression dating back to high school, her refusal to take medication for depression recommended by her doctor and her injections of a diet drug known to cause depression as a side effect.
Defense attorney Roger Falk recounted his client’s testimony on the witness stand and how it was bolstered by the evidence in the case, including a suicide note over whose validity experts disagree.
Addressing the impending divorce as a motive, Falk noted the couple had seriously discussed divorce in 2007 and 2009 and had briefly separated.
Seacat’s attorney told jurors the evidence, including burns and blisters on his feet, bolstered his client’s testimony. He methodically offered possible explanations for much of the state’s evidence as it related to either Seacat’s work at the law enforcement center or his own police training.
Prosecutors contend that the day before his wife died, Seacat had obtained an overhead projector so he could trace handwriting from a journal to construct a fake suicide note. They also noted a Powerpoint presentation on arson investigation was on the table on the night of the fire.
Seacat had testified the overhead projector was used for a lesson on financial fraud, and said the arson material was scrap paper he had used from an old class he took.
Prosecutors scoffed at the notion.
“Has it dawned on you yet how many coincidences or how many things that are bad luck you are going to have to accept in this case to believe his side of the story?” Hanley said to jurors.