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.
Vashti's mother Julie Hostetler was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
"I felt a lot of relief," Hostetler said in an interview with HLN's Nancy Grace. "I felt justice had been done.”
Vashti's brother Rich Forrest told Grace the verdict brought tears to his eyes.
“I felt like there was a lot of poor statements that were made about my sister," Forrest said. "(The verdict) kind of lifted her name back into good light."
The 37-year-old Kingman man faces life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 50 years if convicted of first-degree murder.
Jurors also convicted Kingman 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.
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.
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.
With even the coroner unable to rule the wife's death a homicide due to severe heat damage to her body, prosecutors built their murder case on circumstantial evidence that had been systematically called into question by defense attorneys throughout the trial in a bid to cast doubt among jurors.
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.
Seacat told jurors he had slept on the couch that night, until his wife woke him up at 3:51 a.m. with a call to his cellphone from their upstairs bedroom.
"She said you need to come get the boys or they are going to get hurt," he testified.
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