UPDATE: A Marshall County Grand Jury has returned a true bill of indictment on the charge of murder against Rhonda Seaford. The case will move to Circuit Court in the morning where Seaford will appear for arraignment.
BENTON - Rhonda Seaford, accused of murder after the fatal shooting of her husband Jay Seaford, appeared in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing, accompanied by her public defender, Jamie Jameson.
The first and only witness to take the stand was Marshall County Detective Dan Melone, who testified that on the day of the incident, Seaford admitted to “cocking the gun and pulling the trigger.”
Melone stated both parties had consumed alcohol earlier in the day with toxicology reports indicating Jay Seaford’s blood alcohol level was a .21, with Rhonda’s (taken by a portable breathalyzer two and a half hours later) registered .104.
The detective also testified that the couple had been involved in an argument that day where Jay allegedly shot two holes through the floor of the couple’s Calvert City residence. He testified a Ruger .22 caliber handgun located at the scene is believed to be the murder weapon. Melone said the gun holds six rounds, three of which remained when the gun was taken into evidence.
He said he believes evidence will show the three casings recovered from the scene, two in the basement and one from the victim, were originally loaded in the weapon.
As previously reported from police reports, Seaford made a statement the night of the incident that her husband told her there were “blanks in the gun and to shoot.”
In court on Wednesday, Melone told the court, “By her own statement, she said she didn’t even know what blanks were, but fired anyway.”
Testimony indicated the bullet struck Seaford in the back, three to four inches left of his spine and punctured his aorta causing the death. When asked, Melone said there was no physical sign of a struggle at the scene. Further testimony from the witness indicated Rhonda Seaford’s 13 year-old son is the one who called 9-1-1 after the shooting.
While Melone also testified that there was no evidence to support that Rhonda Seaford’s actions were done in self-defense, her counsel argued otherwise. Jameson addressed Melone recounting his testimony asking if he considered the shots, which were fired into the floor of the home, a threat toward his client.
Melone stated that because they were fired into the floor, rather than at the victim, he could not form the opinion that they were intended as a threat toward her.
“She said that he carried on that way from time to time – carried guns around and acted that way. She described it as ‘common practice,’” the detective said.
Further questioning by the defense focused on how and when his client became an actual suspect in the case. Jameson questioned Melone as to when he was first informed that Mrs. Seaford had involvement in the shooting. “You were aware before you arrived at the scene that she was a suspect?” He asked. Melone testified that while in route to the scene, he was told Mrs. Seaford had reported the accidental shooting of her husband.
Jameson asked the detective as to how and when he questioned Mrs. Seaford and at what point she was officially detained. “So, at that point you are going to want to talk to her correct?” To which Melone confirmed that was his intent. “So, that’s what we would consider a suspect, to see if she has criminal involvement?” He continued in his line of questioning of the witness.
Melone said he questioned Seaford the night of the incident but did not take her into custody until he had probable cause that she was involved in the commission of a crime. “I questioned her to see what her involvement was, whether it was criminal or not,” Melone testified. He stated he read her Miranda rights after being taken into custody.
The defense also focused on what seems to be emerging as a possible defense in this case, the issue of alleged abusive behavior by Mr. Seaford. Statements were made in court indicating Seaford was “verbally abusive” and often “belittled” the defendant.
“You touched on some level of violence that occurred in the past,” Jameson said as he asked Melone “what do you know in general about their relationship?”
He testified that his knowledge was limited to what Mrs. Seaford and her son had told him, “She said it was a good marriage and he was a good husband and also the 13 year-old stated he was a good dad and he loved him very much.”
“So, no one has mentioned to you, at this point anyway, witnessing or hearing other acts of violence?” Jameson continued, with Melone saying at this point, early in the investigation, he had not heard any such evidence.
Final questioning of the witness revolved around the amount of alcohol consumed that day and how exactly Mrs. Seaford could have gotten the gun. “You believe this crime was intentional,” he continued questioning Melone? “I am just questioning why he chose that charge,” he said to the court adding, “there is a big difference between a wanton act and a reckless intentional act.”
Following an objection from the Commonwealth, Jameson redirected his question, “Detective, why did you charge Mrs. Seaford with murder?”
Melone answered that under subsection two of the murder charge, wanton is an element to the charge. We spoke with my lieutenant and other officers and we felt like this fit under that charge.”
In closing, Jameson argued “There was no cold-blooded murder,” – adding there was testimony about their being blanks in the gun and that Mrs. Seaford had a lack of knowledge about firearms. He argued had his client intended to kill her husband from five or six feet away, she would have likely pointed the gun toward a more lethal part of his body.
“Certainly that’s evidence that this was not an intentional crime,” he continued. “Someone who had a gun and was intoxicated and who just had two shots fired, presumably, I can’t think of why else, they had to be fired to threaten her or at her in some way…so if you put yourself in that mindset and you thought there were blanks in it anyway, I mean, she could have just been pulling the trigger to see what it did,” Jameson said.
“Is that a reckless act? I guess we will find that out in Circuit Court,” he concluded saying he did not feel it met the criteria for a charge of murder.
The Commonwealth, represented by County Attorney Jeff Edwards, maintained that “Probable cause had been established. We have a shot fired intentionally at a person that caused their death. There were evidence of arguments, of him saying bad things about her, but no evidence of any threatening nature, just speculation as to why shots were fired into the floor.”
He added access to the outside of the home was there, “there were phones in the house, her family was there next door and no evidence to show she was kept there and had to defend herself.”
After hearing the evidence, District Court Judge Jack Telle ruled there was probable cause to bind the case over to the grand jury, which meets today. Secondly, it was noted during testimony that an error had occurred in an added charge of domestic violence with aggravating circumstances. The defense argued there would have had to have been a domestic violence order in place for the charge to be permissible. The Commonwealth agreed to modify the enhancement of aggravating circumstances.
The defense also asked for a bond reduction stating Mrs. Seaford has no criminal history and is not a danger to the community. Judge Telle denied the motion in the interest of timing saying should the Grand Jury indict Mrs. Seaford, she will likely be scheduled to appear for arraignment on Friday in Circuit Court where bond will be addressed.