Who pulled the trigger then started the fire?
When firefighters arrived at the family home in Kingman, Kansas, it was already too late to send anyone inside.
Fierce flames licked the outside of the building, climbing the roof. Ex-cop Brett Seacat had escaped the blazing inferno, rescuing his two sons, aged 4 and 2. But their mum, Brett’s wife Vashti, was still inside.
After the flames had died down, firefighters found her charred body in the bedroom. By her side was a pistol and she had a bullet hole in the back of her head. Brett told police that Vashti, depressed and suicidal, had set the fire and then shot herself.
Brett said he’d rushed upstairs when he heard loud creaking, a pop and a bang. He’d battled through flames in an attempt to save his wife, but there was blood everywhere, her body was limp.
Knowing it was hopeless, he’d fled with the boys.
Vashti’s death left her friends and family in disbelief. Why take her own life? Put her beloved boys in danger?
Maybe the recent change in her marriage held the answer…
Married for 19 years, the former childhood sweethearts had grown apart. 16 days earlier Vashti had filed for divorce.
She was excited about her new start. Happiest she’d been in years. A very different woman from the one Brett described.
Plus, Brett’s small burn to his foot didn’t fit with his story of fighting through the fire to save her.
Then there was a call he’d made to his marriage counsellor after escaping. ‘Vashti is dead and it’s my fault,’ he’d said.
Brett was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson and aggravated child endangerment. But he maintained Vashti pulled the trigger after setting fire to the house.
A suicide note in Vashti’s handwriting was found in her car.
Brett pleaded not guilty.
During the trial, he confessed that on the night before the fire, he’d threatened to expose an alleged affair Vashti was having and to run away with their sons.
Had this made Vashti desperate enough to end her life?
The defence argued that she had had bouts of depression dating back to high school, and had refused medication.
They also said she’d used injections of a diet drug known to cause depression.
And despite spending six months examining Vashti’s body, a coroner couldn’t decide whether the death was suicide or murder.
But the prosecution said that Brett had acquired an overhead projector that he’d used to help trace Vashti’s handwriting for the suicide note.
They pointed out that people who saw Vashti on the day of her death found her happy and upbeat.
Throughout the trial, Brett denied killing his wife
But what would the jury decide?
After less than a day of deliberations, the jury found Brett Seacat, 37, guilty of first-degree murder. He was also found guilty of aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment.
He faces up to 50 years behind bars.
By Rachel Tompkins