Dateline   |  October 12, 2013

'Burning Suspicion' part 8

At trial, the prosecution presents its case against Brett Seacat.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as kingman coped with the tragedy in its midst, the smallest victims of the vashti and brett seacat story endured what horrors we can't all imagine. kathleen left her home in oklahoma to help care for vashti 's young sons shortly after her sister died and perhaps more than anyone she was learning what violent death could do to a family.

>> we held those babies all night. they would wake up, they were traumatized by the fire.

>> sure.

>> so to rock the little 2 1/2-year-old begging you, please ask jesus, please bring my mommy back, i'll be good. i need a mommy, that breaks your heart. this went on for a long time at night. sobbing for hours.

>> those poor kids. i mean, you're trying to process that mommy is gone forever and these people over here think mommy killed herself and these people over here think my daddy shot my mommy.

>> the trial, the method to decide one way or the other finally began this spring, two years after the fire. two years in which the local media covered the seacat case in a big way.

>> it's looking like brett seacat will finally face trial for the death of vashti seacat .

>> brett was entitled to ask to have his trial moved to another county, which might have been less saturated with news of the case against him. but he elected to keep it here in the kingman historic courthouse, two blocks from his home.

>> intentionally and with premeditation, committed the murder of his wife, vashti seacat .

>> for all the talk around town, amy hanley had precious little hard evidence to draw upon, not even an autopsy report to wave around because the coroner hadn't labeled vashti 's death a homicide. no, the evidence was not hard. it was circumstantial. in other words, hanley will be asking the jury to look at the circumstances and then put two and two together.

>> he got his .44 magnum , ruger revolver, he approached her in bed while she was sleeping, he shot her in the head, he set fire to at least two places in the house to cover up his actions. and he did all of this while their two young sons were in the home.

>> the motive? quite simple said the prosecution. brett did not want a divorce, but he did want custody of his sons and he would do what it took, even kill vashti , to keep them. their marriage counselor took the stand.

>> he said that he felt like vashti was going to run, he could just feel it. that she was going to leave him. and that if she divorced him, she was divorcing the entire seacat family, including the children and that he would take the children and she would never see them even if it meant leaving the country. i told him it was not legal, that it wasn't going to help the children. it would hurt them a great deal. that they needed access to both their parents.

>> did you talk to them about divorce, couples having two households?

>> yes.

>> and what was brett 's comments about that?

>> he said he had seen children of divorce and he didn't think it was worse for them to have just one parent or one household. he thought it was better.

>> as for brett 's claim that vashti committed suicide , the therapist said she didn't believe it for a second.

>> i asked her whether she would commit suicide and she said no, for two reasons. one her religious beliefs and her faith and the second was that she couldn't do that to her boys. that she just loved being a mom. she couldn't leave them. they needed her.

>> the prosecutors showed the jury a photo of the contents of vashti 's purse, which contained that post-it note listing various costs, including funeral expenses.

>> vashti seacat , as all of her friends and family testified, was a very organized person, as both a mother and in her career at work. and that list is simply somebody planning out what they might do in their future when they're going to get divorced, which we know vashti seacat was doing.

>> prosecutors also showed jurors the power point papers found on the dining room table, the presentation about homicide, suicides and fire. true, brett was a law enforcement trainer said the prosecutor, but those were not his subjects.

>> he was not teaching arson. he wasn't teaching homicide. he wasn't teaching wound evidence.

>> no. but those materials proved, said the prosecutor, was premeditation, it was brett 's deadly homework.

>> but what about that last entry in her journal, the one that read like a final farewell ? forged said the state, by brett . the handwriting expert said it wasn't well done. look closely, he said. that slight shakiness, he called that --

>> the term we use in documents tremor of fraud.

>> the tremor of fraud. it appeared, said the prosecution that brett forged that note the day before vashti died, the same day he was torching hard drives . the same day he asked a staff member at the training center where he could find an overhead projector, something so outdated, it was in storage. the prosecutor said it appeared brett used the projection light to recreate vashti 's writing in the journal.

>> some of his actions were reckless because the clock was winding down.

>> vashti told brett , he could stay in the house until noon sunday, the prosecutor said. she was planning to go out saturday evening in wichita and spend the night there.

>> it's friday, it's friday evening. this was his last opportunity while they lived in the home together to kill vashti .

>> then there was the lack of evidence where there should have been some if this were a suicide, that is.

>> did you find any soot in the air ways or the lungs?

>> no.

>> the autopsy findings that vashti seacat had no soot in her lungs, in her airways and that there was no carbon monoxide in her blood, that was a key piece of evidence for the prosecution because what it showed, what the jury could infer from that was that vashti seacat didn't breathe in any smoke. if she didn't breathe in any smoke, the fire was set after she was dead.

>> after she was dead.

>> and something else. weird little detail. yet according to the prosecution, it was telling. when she died, vashti 's bladder was quite full.

>> there probably would have been a urinary urgency or the need to go to the restroom.

>> the importance of that for the evidence is that the claim from brett seacat is that vashti is walking around the house, setting these fires, holding her breath, not breathing any smoke while she has a strong urge to urinate. that doesn't make sense. that's something that the jury needed to decide whether or not in their common sense and experience, whether they thought that made any sense at all.

>> just another point to add to the unlikely hood of this whole story he was telling?

>> that's right.

>> the claimed suicide weapon didn't make sense either said the prosecutor. .44 magnum ruger redhawk , such a big heavy gun .

>> if she killed herself, how was she able to get that heavy handgun to her head and pull the trigger and do so in just the right downward angle that it slices right through her spinal cord and there was kick and recoil to the gun. how did it end up completely underneath her body when she was sleeping on her side?

>> the prosecutor said the angle of the bullet proved one thing.

>> that's consistent with someone standing over her while she was sleeping shooting her.

>> because, said the prosecutor, because that's what he said he would do. brett not only woke vashti up one night to tell her he had a dream that he killed her, but friends and colleagues testified about what they told the kbi, that in the weeks before she died, vashti told them that incredibly, brett threatened to kill her and burn the house down and make it look like suicide.

>> she said, do you think brett would burn the house down with me in it? and i was taken aback by that and i said, not with the kids at home.

>> tragedy was, said the prosecutor, vashti didn't believe him either.

>> so when those threats didn't work, he had to kill her to maintain control of her.

>> in other words, said the prosecutor, planned, premeditated murder . looks bad for brett , doesn't it? but then you haven't heard the bombshell the defense had in store.