HOUSTON (CN) – A California man who drove to Texas in 2014 and murdered a husband and wife and four of their children in their suburban Houston home was sentenced to death by a jury Friday.
Ronald Lee Haskell, 39, forced his way into his ex-wife’s sister Katie Stay’s home in Spring, Texas on July 9, 2014, tied up her five children and held them at gunpoint until Stay and her husband Stephen returned to the house, according to testimony in his six-week trial.
The eldest child Cassidy Stay, now 20, testified that Haskell made her, her parents, and four siblings lie down side-by-side, counted to seven and then shot them all in the head with his silencer-equipped gun.
Cassidy Stay said on the witness stand she survived by playing dead and with blood oozing from a graze wound on her head, she called the police and told them “Uncle Ronnie” was driving to her grandparents’ house.
Police found him near the grandparents’ home and arrested him after an hours-long standoff in which he told a sheriff’s deputy hostage negotiator on the phone while sitting in his car he was hearing voices and he wasn’t “right in the head,” as revealed in a recording played in his trial, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Prosecutors told the jury Haskell shot the Stays because he was enraged at his wife Melannie Lyon, 38, for divorcing him earlier that year and moving out of their home with their children.
Lyon testified that she filed for divorce after Haskell punched her in 2013, and that he had abused her throughout their 12-year marriage, telling her he would kill her if she ever left him.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office charged Haskell with capital murder for the killings of Katie Stay, 34, and her husband Stephen Stay, 39, and the jury found him guilty on Sept. 26, not buying his insanity defense.
During the trial’s punishment phase, Haskell’s defense attorneys told jurors that life in prison would be a more just punishment than the death penalty due to Haskell’s history of mental illness.
In closing arguments Friday, prosecutors described the final moments of the Stays’ 4-year-old Zach.
They said Haskell shot Zach in the shoulder and the boy scrambled over to his father, who was already dead, and tried to shield himself by burying his head into his father’s shoulder.
Haskell came over and shot Zach point blank in the back of the head, prosecutors said.
He also killed 7-year-old Rebecca; 9-year-old Emily; and 13-year-old Bryan.
The jury returned the death penalty after less than six hours of deliberation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.