(KINGMAN, Kan.) — After less than a day of deliberations, a Kingman, Kan., jury found former sheriff’s deputy Brett Seacat guilty of murdering his wife and then torching the family home in an attempt to hide the evidence.
Prosecutors presented the 37-year-old Seacat as a “controlling, manipulative” husband who planned the murder of his wife, Vashti Seacat, in April 2011.
The jury seemed to agree, convicting the ex-cop on a charge of first-degree murder. Seacat was also found guilty of aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment stemming from the fire prosecutors said he set as his two young sons slept down the hall from their mother’s dead body.
Sentencing was set for the morning of Aug. 5, and the state indicated it would seek a sentence of 50 years in prison.
After closing arguments Monday afternoon, the jury was handed the case but opted to go home and begin a full day of deliberations Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Jurors worked through the lunch hour, ordering pizza to the courthouse as they continued to weigh the charges.
During her closing arguments on Monday, prosecuting attorney Amy Hanley told jurors that Seacat had relied on his law enforcement background to stage the crime scene to make it look as though his wife had killed herself, just two days after she served him with divorce papers.
Hanley called Brett Seacat “a little reckless” and said he needed the fire to destroy evidence at the crime scene. “He banked on that fire,” she said.
The defense presented a contrasting story of a woman who had battled depression since high school and set her home on fire before taking her own life.
Roger Falk, Seacat’s attorney, told the jury on Monday that after months of reviewing police reports and crime scene photos, even the coroner had “reasonable doubt” that the mother of two young boys was murdered.
“Someone with over 3,000 autopsies under their belt sat here and told you, based upon all of their experience and training, ‘I can’t tell if this is suicide or homicide,'” Falk said.
Seacat’s behavior around the time of his wife’s death, including the destruction of hard drives and old cellphones, has been a key element in the prosecution’s case.
However, Seacat took the stand last Thursday to explain his actions.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do with hard drives. If you leave a hard drive in the trash, most identity thieves would not have any problem at all accessing the hard drive in some form or another,” Seacat said.
As for the discarded cellphones prosecutors found in the trash of his Kansas office, Seacat said that he was simply trying to protect his identity.
“Websites that said, ‘Don’t sell your old cellphones,’ said, ‘Destroy them,'” he said.
Prosecutors said Vashti Seacat wouldn’t have put the lives of her two sons in jeopardy by setting the house on fire, while the defense said Brett Seacat wouldn’t have risked his boys’ lives by starting a blaze.
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