HOUSTON – Cassidy Stay walked past the jury box with a smile. It lit the spark that fueled her new beginning.
Seconds earlier, she spoke her peace to the man who killed her family.
A judge on Friday sentenced Ronald Lee Haskell to death by lethal injection, after a jury concluded Haskell remained a continued threat to society. The two-month-long trial, ending a nightmare that played out for five years, ended with Stay's victim impact statement.
"For the past five years, I always wanted to know how you felt about me and what type of remorse you felt," stay said.
"My family always said that you only felt sorry for yourself and I didn't want to believe that because I thought, 'Surely he has to feel bad for killing my family."
Whether Haskell felt bad wasn't a focal point of either side of the debate that determined his life. Rather, it centered on what drove his decision kill: Was it an inability to control the thoughts that triggered his actions or a deeply developed hate for the ex-wife who escaped his grip?
Over time, Cassidy found her answer.
"When I heard that you felt no remorse, something changed inside of me and I didn't know what to do with that change, and it was causing me a lot of hurt and anger because that was my closure. My closure was the hope that you would feel bad. I no longer had the desire for closure because this is it. There's nothing left on this Earth that will soothe my wounds and worries. Only God can help me now."
Stay's testimony of how she survived her family members' assassination at the hands of a man she once knew as "Uncle Ron" anchored the prosecution's case. The defense never tried to challenge Stay. It couldn't. All it could do was argue that Haskell's trove of diagnosed mental illnesses prevented him from having any control over what he had done. And after a jury didn't believe that, the defense's last attempt was to convince the jury Haskell wasn't a continuing threat.
Closing arguments span two hours
Closing arguments on Friday drove home the defense's claim.
"Until his last breath, he will die in prison, and he deserves that, without question," began Neil Davis III, one of Haskell's defense attorneys.
"We know from the evidence that he's not a future danger. We know from the science and studies that he can spend the rest of his life in prison," he said.
The prosecution argued Haskell's actions on July 9, 2014, merely further confirmed who he had been "and who he will always be: an abusive, angry, violent, manipulative, selfish, narcissist, blame-shifting monster" argued Lauren Bard, one of three prosecutors on the case.
Jurors had two options to consider: life in prison or death by lethal injection. The prosecutors argued the right decision marked "the moment for justice," said prosecutor Samantha Knecht.
Knecht then lined up seven bullets, one for each member of the Stay family — including Cassidy, the lone survivor.
"But his plan was not complete," she said after a pause, and lined up 22 additional bullets for the rest of Melanie Lyon's family members whom the state claimed Haskell had plotted to kill, as well. Melanie, the wife who testified she suffered 11 years of physical and verbal abuse by Haskell, was included in that second roundup.
"If not this, then what?" Knecht asked.
The defense said the prosecution's case was centered on the quest for vengeance.
"Killing Ron Haskell is not going to make that grief go away. It may make them feel better for a second, but that's not going to last," said Doug Durham, another of Haskell's defense attorneys, referring to relatives of the Stay family, especially Cassidy.
Durham asked the jury to consider if it found any sufficient mitigating factors about Haskell.
"I'll be very candid with you and argue Ron Haskell had a severe mental illness, and he couldn't distinguish right from wrong," Durham argued.
For the defense, a tough fight
Brian Wice, KPRC2's legal analyst, said the defense had a tough road ahead of it because of the threshold that set the parameters for "continuing threat," which covered "whether or not anybody within society as including other inmates and staffing in the penitentiary is something this jury can consider in answering that question," Wise said.
Indeed, Haskell's defense tried to discourage jurors from labeling Haskell a continuing threat, urging them to consider whether there was anything sufficiently mitigating about Haskell. Their primary plea was mental illness.
Stay: 'I hope when you die, you will get the punishment you deserve from God.'
After Friday's verdict, Stay looked her family's killer in the eye.
"You've been in control long enough and now your game is up. You're not in control anymore. You've lost and this is it for you," Stay said from the witness stand. "I'm going to continue to move my life with happiness, and I'm going to move forward, and I'm going to forget about this and I'm going to forget about you."
"Are you going to feel remorse one day?" she asked. "I don't know and I want to tell you I don't care anymore."
"God will be there for you when you need him and that time is going to come quickly for you, whether you like it or not," Stay said, before walking to her seat, passing the jury box. She smiled at jurors as she whispered, "Thank you."
The date of Haskell's execution will be set at a later time.