HOUSTON (AP) — A man traveled from California to suburban Houston in 2014 and stalked his ex-wife’s family for two days before killing six of them as part of his plan to harm anyone who had helped his former spouse, a Texas prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Harris County prosecutor Samantha Knecht made the assertion during opening statements in the capital murder trial of Ronald Lee Haskell. Knecht added that Haskell created a meticulous plot in which he would kill his ex-wife's entire family.
"This was a plan created in anger and fueled by vengeance," said Knecht.
Haskell's defense attorney, Douglas Durham, told jurors that Haskell was not responsible for his actions because before the shooting, he had "spiraled down into very severe mental illness."
Knecht told the jury that Haskell's marriage had ended after accusations of domestic violence and that his ex-wife and his children had moved to Texas to be with her family.
As he lived with his parents in California, Haskell hatched a plan to go to Texas and harm his ex-wife's family, the prosecutor said.
From California, Haskell stopped in Utah and stole a gun from an ex-girlfriend. He also bought over 200 rounds of ammunition, according to Knecht.
On the day of the shooting, Haskell posed as a FedEx driver and made his way into the home of Stephen and Katie Stay — his ex-wife's sister. The couple's five children were alone at the time and he held them at gunpoint until their parents returned, Knecht said.
After Stephen and Katie Stay returned to their Houston-area home, Haskell fatally shot the couple along with four of their children, ranging in ages from 4 to 13 years. The couple's oldest daughter, then-15-year-old Cassidy Stay, was also shot in the head but she survived by playing dead.
After Haskell left, Knecht said the girl called police to warn that Haskell intended to go to her grandparents' house next.
Haskell, 39, took the Stays' vehicle and was near the home of his ex-wife's parents when police cornered him. He then tried going to the home of his ex-wife's brother before officers eventually took him into custody.
Jurors on Monday also heard the 911 call from Cassidy Stay.
In the call, Cassidy can be heard yelling and crying as she tells an operator that "my entire family has been shot." She named Haskell as the shooter and, at one point, described how one of her family members was gasping for breath.
Prosecutors say Cassidy Stay was expected to testify this week.
Lt. B. Gheen, with the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office, described the scene at the home when he first arrived as frantic with "lots of blood, bodies lying on the ground."
Durham said that Haskell admits to killing the six but said he was severely mentally ill and didn't know his actions were wrong.
Haskell was a "very troubled and sick individual" who heard voices telling him that his family would return to him if he killed the Stays, Durham said.
Haskell had been hospitalized at least six times and had received inconsistent medical treatment but was trying to get help, Durham said.
Throughout Monday's proceedings, Haskell kept looking down at the floor. Durham later told reporters that Haskell is medicated and sedated.
Durham declined to comment when asked if Haskell was remorseful.
Testimony was to resume on Tuesday. The trial could last up to two months.
Haskell faces the death penalty if convicted of capital murder.
This story has been corrected to show that the accused shooter traveled from California and not Utah to suburban Houston, and that the accused shooter had lived with his family in California and not Utah.
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