By Erwin Seba and Terry Wade
HOUSTON (Reuters) – The man accused of killing six members of his former wife’s family, including four children, at their suburban Houston home collapsed in court on Friday when details of the crime were read aloud and was wheeled out in an office chair by sheriff’s deputies.
Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, was in court wearing orange prison attire for a hearing after being charged on Thursday with capital murder in the shooting deaths of his former wife’s sister, her husband and four of their children, aged 4 to 14.
He was being held without bond. Police have said Haskell entered the home on Wednesday posing as a delivery man and searching for his former wife, then methodically executed members of the family.
Doug Durham, Haskell’s public defender, said his client had been in and out of hospitals in Utah and California with a history of mental illness and that he was not taking prescribed medication at the time of the killings. He was expected to face a hearing on his mental capacity. A grand jury will decide whether he will be tried for capital murder, which carries the possibility of the death penalty.
Haskell said “Yes, sir” to the judge after his rights were read and then fainted to the floor as details of the crime were read in court by the prosecutor. Sheriff’s deputies picked him up and wheeled him out of the courtroom in an office chair.
Haskell is accused of fatally shooting two boys ages 4 and 14, two girls ages 7 and 9, and their parents Stephen Stay, 39, and Katie Stay, 33. Five of them were dead when found and one of the children died after being air-lifted to a hospital. Cassidy Stay, 15, survived a gunshot wound to the head.
Cassidy was released from the hospital earlier on Friday and is expected to make a full recovery, the hospital said.
Harris County prosecutor Tammy Thomas told the judge that Haskell methodically executed the family, tying them up and then firing two bullets into each of them, starting with the mother.
VICTIMS TIED UP
Haskell, pretending to be a FedEx delivery man, entered the home when Cassidy told him to wait while she got a pen to take down his name and number, Thomas said.
The teenager did not recognize her uncle, who had grown a beard in recent months, until after Haskell told her his name, Thomas said. He then pulled a gun and ordered her to assemble the other children in the living room before tying them up as they lay on the floor, Thomas added.
Their parents were confronted by Haskell when they returned from a trip to the bank, according to the prosecution.
When the family was together in one room, Haskell began to shoot them in a brazen attack that showed elements of planning, said Thomas, who appeared distraught after reading details of the crime to the court.
“Maybe reality is finally settling in,” she told reporters afterward when asked what prompted Haskell to collapse.
“It makes no difference to me if he understands how much trouble he is in. We’ll get a jury to do that for him.”
A neighbor previously told Reuters that Haskell was angry with the family for facilitating the divorce from his former wife, who did not live at the house and was not harmed in the incident. Cassidy Stay, left for dead, called police and alerted them to the shootings and said that Haskell was going to the home of more relatives. Police intercepted him before he arrived.
Police in San Marcos, California, have said they suspect Haskell bound his mother to a chair during an argument last week. Police in Logan, Utah, have said they once arrested Haskell for domestic violence when he lived there with his then-wife from 2006 to 2013, but charges were dropped in a plea deal.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Terry Wade; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Beech)