KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — 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.
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.
Seacat stood rigidly and showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. Members of Vashti Seacat's family left the courtroom in tears, hugging each other on the way out and some holding hands.
Defense attorney Roger Falk leaned over a barrier separating the gallery from the rest of the courtroom after the hearing ended and softly told his client's parents and brother, "I am sorry."
Falk declined comment outside the courthouse, but said he would appeal. Seacat's father was so shaken after the verdict that he had difficulty walking out of the courthouse and had to be helped into a waiting van.
Jurors declined to speak with reporters.
Vashti Seacat's brother, Rich Forrest, told reporters outside the courthouse that the verdict was a relief.
"We feel our lives have been on hold for the last two years," Forrest said.
The only sense of closure is that the jury's verdict cleared his sister's good name, the brother said, noting that the family was frustrated at some of the defense depictions of his sister.
"Nothing is going to bring her back, but at least people know she is a good person," Forrest said.
Prosecutors have portrayed Brett Seacat as a killer who used his law enforcement training to forge a suicide note before shooting. 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.
Prosecutor Amy Hanley read a short statement to reporters after the verdict saying they were pleased with the jury verdict.
"Our goal throughout this prosecution was to seek justice for Vashti and Vashti's family," Hanley said. "The jury returned a verdict that achieved that goal. We also believe that we presented a fair case that will stand up on appeal."
Kingman County Attorney Matthew Ricke said he was proud of the verdict returned by the jury.
"More importantly, I am pleased that justice was served in this case," Ricke said. "I know this verdict cannot erase the pain the family has been through, but hopefully this will help them move forward."
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.
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.