Trial begins for man accused of killing 6 members of Stay family in 2014

HOUSTON – The trial for a man accused of killing six members of a Spring family and wounding a seventh began Monday.

Ronald Haskell, 39, of Utah, is charged in connection with the 2014 shooting deaths of Katie and Stephen Stay and their children Bryan, Emily, Rebecca and Zach. Their fifth child, Cassidy, was shot but survived her injuries.

Opening statements began Monday. Here's a closer look at what each side told jurors.

Prosecutors: Vengeance motivated killings

The prosecution began by saying that Haskell planned out his attack and was seeking revenge against Melanie Haskell, his ex-wife and sister of Katie Stay, for their divorce.

"What you need to know is that he was angry," said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Samantha Knecht. "He was mad. He had lost control, and he didn't like it."

The prosecution spoke of a pattern of abuse at Haskell's hands.

"They got married in 2002, and after years of physical and verbal abuse, Melanie Haskell couldn't take it anymore, and she left him." 

Melanie Haskell moved to Spring with their children following the couple's divorce in 2011. They lived with her parents. 

Prosecutors accused Ronald Haskell of deliberately planning the rampage, driving from California, where he lived with his parents after the divorce, to Utah, where he's accused of stealing a 9 mm gun from an ex-girlfriend.

While in Utah, prosecutors said, Ronald Haskell also purchased duct tape and a pillow from a Walmart. He eventually reached his final destination in Texas. 

"There was intent," Knecht said. "There was planning. There was thought to this."

Prosecutors said Ronald Haskell used the pillow he purchased in Utah as a silencer for the gun as he opened fire on the Stay family. 

Cassidy, then 15 years old, survived a gunshot to the head, prosecutors said. She played dead until she no longer heard Ronald Haskell's footsteps in the home, prosecutors said. He took the family's cellphones with him, driving off in Stephen Stay's car, prosecutors said.

Cassidy used a landline to call 911. 

After opening arguments, jurors heard audio of the call. 

"How many have been shot," the dispatcher asked. 
"All seven of us," Cassidy replied, referring to herself, her parents and four younger siblings. 

Cassidy also told the dispatcher that it was her uncle Ron who pulled the trigger. 

Cassidy then warned the dispatcher that Ronald Haskell likely was en route to her grandparents home, crying uncontrollably as she said his killing spree wasn't over. 

"I don't know what's going on or why he did this," Cassidy said in the 911 call. 

Defense: Haskell's insanity, mental illness, led him to hear voices

Ronald Haskell's defense team told jurors their client suffers from schizophrenia, and the voices in his head directed him to kill. One voice was named Joseph, according to the defense.

Ronald Haskell's attorney said his client had been hospitalized six times prior to the killings. 

"This was not a rational plan, said Doug Durham, Ronald Haskell's attorney. "On July 9, 2014, Ronald Lee Haskell was a very troubled and sick individual."

The defense said Ronald Haskell sought treatment although the treatment was inconsistent and not always helpful. 

"Doctors don't always get it right," Durham said. "They're not always giving him antipsychotics. In fact, the antipsychotics they give him are not always the same." 

While Texas has an insanity statute, in the case of the State of Texas vs. Ronald Haskell, it will be up to his defense team to prove their client was insane at the time of the attack. 

"I'm very comfortable with the evidence showing he was legally insane," Durham told reporters outside of the courtroom. 

During opening arguments, Durham told jurors they will hear from leading scholars in the forensic psychiatry field. The defense said Ronald Haskell told doctors of the voices in his head, including the moment when he opened fire in the Stay family home. 

"He said, 'I started floating above myself,' and he's witnessing the terrible, terrible, terrible shootings of these kids and the parents," Durham said. 

Proving insanity will not be easy. 

"There is a subjective component to insanity," Durham told reporters. "Unfortunately, we don't have an MRI that can compare a healthy brain to a psychotic brain. That technology doesn't exist, so, it is subjective to some degree."

About the Authors:

Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.