UPDATE: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A Kingman County judge has closed a hearing in the case against a former sheriff's deputy and law enforcement instructor accused of killing his wife.
Brett Seacat is charged with first-degree murder in connection to his wife's death. Vashti Forrest Seacat's body was found inside their home in April of 2011. He is also facing charges of aggravated arson, and two counts of endangering a child.
In district court Wednesday, Judge Larry Solomon ruled to close the hearing to the media and public, saying Seacat's right to a fair trial "only slightly" outweighs the public and press's right to know.
Lyndon Vix of Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch, argued for five local media outlets that the hearing should have remained open.
"I think it's unfortunate that the people of a small county seem to have less access to their courts than the people of large counties," Vix said. "The reality is, publicity is going to be much more pervasive in a county this size than it would be in a larger county."
In making his decision, Solomon said he expects to call as much as 15% of the entire available pool of jurors in Kingman County. He contrasted a trial of this magnitude happening in Sedgwick County would have a jury pool of about 400,000 people to pull from. Kingman County has a jury pool of about 4,500.
"I do believe there were measures that could have been taken short of closing the hearing to protect the defendant's rights," Vix said. "Our case law requires some of those things to be done. The judge found that he couldn't be assured that they would be effective in preventing prejudicial publicity."
The ruling comes after a defense motion filed in July. Val Wachtel, Seacat's attorney, argued that opening the hearing to media members and the public could lead to adverse pretrial publicity.
Solomon said the evidence he allows at trial will eventually be publicized. Both sides argued behind closed doors Wednesday what evidence will be admitted during the December trial.