HOUSTON — A man accused of killing six members of his ex-wife’s family, including four children, after forcing his way into their suburban Houston home collapsed in court twice Friday as a prosecutor read out details of the crime.
A shackled Ronald Lee Haskell was standing before a state district judge during a probable cause hearing when he fell to the ground. Deputies lifted him to his feet and the 33-year-old Haskell stood for about another minute before collapsing again.
He was then lifted into a chair and wheeled from the courtroom.
“His face, he obviously lost blood in his face, and his knees buckled,” said Haskell’s attorney, Doug Durham. “He’s scared. I think he has a limited mental capacity of what’s going on.”
Before the collapses, Haskell had acknowledged with a quiet “Yes” a couple of questions put to him by State District Judge Mark Kent Ellis about his legal rights. Ellis ordered Haskell held without bond.
“Maybe reality is finally setting in,” said Tammy Thomas, the lead Harris County assistant district attorney in the case. “It’s not television, this is not fiction. He is facing his consequences.”
Thomas said she expected a grand jury to issue a capital murder indictment as a result of Wednesday’s fatal shootings of Stephen and Katie Stay and four of their children, ranging in age from 4 to 14.
Authorities have said Haskell was searching for his ex-wife, Katie Stay’s sister, when he came to the home in the northern Houston suburb of Spring.
He tied up the family and put them face-down on the floor before shooting each in the back of the head, according to investigators. The family had refused to say where Haskell could find his ex-wife.
The couple’s 15-year-old daughter survived by playing dead after she was shot and told police Haskell was planning to shoot other relatives, according to court documents. She suffered a fractured skull when a bullet grazed her head but was able to call 911 and provide Haskell’s identity and description.
Police located Haskell’s car and took him into custody after a three-hour standoff.
Durham, appointed by the court to represent Haskell, said his focus will be Haskell’s mental condition “and whether he was legally responsible at the time of his conduct.”
“I think the evidence is going to show … he is a troubled individual and he has a history of mental illness,” Durham said. “Unfortunately, the delivery of the health care has failed in this system.”
Thomas said that strategy was not surprising, “because there aren’t many explanations otherwise for him to grasp.” But she said the probable cause in the case showed a “determined effort involved, the planning, the conscious decisions.”
She said she would present evidence to a grand jury to seek a capital murder indictment and a decision on the death penalty would be made later by elected District Attorney Devon Anderson.
Katie Stay’s father, Roger Lyon, said in a statement issued Thursday through the Harris County Sheriff’s Office that his hospitalized granddaughter was expected to make a full recovery.
Stephen Stay was a real estate broker. Katie Stay was a helpful presence around the neighbourhood, planning Halloween and Christmas parties for children, said neighbour Viri Palacios. Katie Stay also went to Utah last fall to help her sister escape her relationship with Haskell, neighbours said.
A divorce decree issued in February shows Haskell and Melanie Kaye Haskell were married in California in 2002. They separated in 2013.
Haskell had been jailed in 2008 on charges of assault and domestic violence in Logan, Utah. Those charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal, according to Logan authorities. Last year, Haskell was served with a protective order from his ex-wife. It was dismissed after the couple filed for divorce, online court records show.
Haskell’s mother also had reported an argument with her son July 2 at her home in San Marcos, California, during which Haskell physically restrained her when she tried to leave the house to call for help, the San Diego County sheriff’s office said Thursday. Haskell left after a few hours, and his mother contacted police, the statement says. She later obtained a restraining order against her son, according to the statement.