WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction of a former police instructor accused of killing his wife and setting their house on fire to cover it up as their two young sons slept down the hall.
The high court ruled that the trial judge properly barred Brett Seacat from testifying that his wife, Vashti Seacat, had previously tried to kill herself, which might have bolstered the defense theory that she set the fire and took her own life.
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The justices also ruled that the judge was right to admit statements from Vashti Seacat’s co-workers and therapist, who testified that she told them her husband had threatened to kill her by burning down the house and making her death appear to be a suicide.
Brett Seacat was a police instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at the time and had previously worked as a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy, and prosecutors contended that he used his training to forge a suicide note from his 34-year-old wife. They said he shot her in their Kingman home in the early-morning hours of April 30, 2011, just 16 days after she filed for divorce.
He was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment.
Investigators found Vashti Seacat’s body in the home’s charred remains. Brett Seacat, his bare feet burned by the rapidly spreading fire, escaped safely with the two boys, who were ages 2 and 4.
Prosecutors said Brett Seacat used an overhead projector to project his wife’s handwriting from her journal and trace the letters to compose a suicide note. He then shot her in her sleep, doused the hallway and bedroom with gasoline and placed a call from her phone to his phone before lighting the fire.
His attorneys argued that Vashti Seacat was depressed and shot herself after setting the fire following a bitter argument the previous night.
In its decision, the appeals court said her journal, which was found in her car two days after the fire, was pivotal to the case at trial. A forensic document examiner who testified for the state concluded the suicide note was probably traced, however a different examiner who testified for the defense concluded it was probably written by the same person who wrote the journal.
Brett Seacat was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years for the murder conviction, a consecutive sentence of 61 months on the arson count, and consecutive sentences of 7 months for each of the child endangerment convictions.
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