HOUSTON (AP) — A man who said voices in his head told him to kill six members of his ex-wife’s family in Texas, including four children, was found guilty of capital murder Thursday by a jury that rejected his insanity defense.
A seventh family member testified at trial that Ronald Lee Haskell forced her, her parents and siblings to lie face down on the living room floor in their suburban Houston home before shooting them one by one.
Cassidy Stay, then 15, was shot in the head in her uncle’s 2014 attack. She said she only survived by playing dead.
Now 20, Stay bowed her head and clasped her hands as if in prayer before the verdict was read Thursday. Afterward, she wiped away tears and smiled as she hugged prosecutors in the Houston courtroom. In a loud whisper, Stay told one of them: “We did it.”
Haskell displayed no reaction to the verdict. He looked down at the floor, as he had throughout the trial.
Starting Monday, jurors will hear evidence in the trial’s punishment phase before deciding whether to sentence Haskell, 39, to life in prison without parole or death. The punishment phase is expected to last several days and will include additional testimony.
Haskell’s attorneys said they were disappointed by the verdict and that the bigger battle will be to convince jurors to spare him the death penalty.
“We’re looking for life without parole. We want to save his life. That’s our job,” said Neal Davis III, one of Haskell’s attorneys.
Prosecutors alleged Haskell was motivated by vengeance and not mental illness in the killings. Authorities said he had plotted to hurt anybody who helped his ex-wife, Melannie Lyon, after she left him.
“There was never a reasonable doubt that Haskell meticulously planned and carried out the slaughter of the Stay family,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement after Thursday’s verdict.
Lyon testified that Haskell had physically abused her and their children, so she moved them all from Utah to Texas to be with her family after the divorce. Haskell traveled from California and stalked Lyon’s family for two days before the killings, prosecutors said.
Stay testified at trial that she prayed and begged her uncle “please don’t hurt us,” before Haskell opened fire. He killed 39-year-old Stephen Stay and his 34-year-old wife Katie, along with their children 4-year-old Zach; 7-year-old Rebecca; 9-year-old Emily; and 13-year-old Bryan. Katie Stay was the sister of Haskell’s ex-wife.
Haskell was convicted in the deaths of Stephen and Katie Stay. Prosecutors only needed to charge Haskell with two of the deaths to get to capital murder. In cases with multiple murders, it is common trial strategy for prosecutors to not charge all the deaths at the same time in case legal issues arise and new indictments need to be issued.
After the shooting at the Stays’ home, Haskell tried going to the houses of his ex-wife’s parents and brother, but officers took him into custody after a long standoff.
In Texas, an insanity defense is rarely used and seldom successful.
A forensic psychiatrist testifying for the defense said Haskell wasn’t responsible for his actions because of severe mental illness that prevented him from knowing right from wrong. The psychiatrist testified Haskell was suffering from a form of bipolar disorder, a brain condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, and from schizoaffective disorder, a condition characterized by hallucinations or delusions.
Prosecution experts testified that Haskell did not have a severe mental illness and had faked his symptoms. He knew his actions were wrong and had carefully planned the killings, they said.
By JUAN A. LOZANO
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