Ronald Lee Haskell, 39, was found guilty last month for the July 2014 massacre of Katie Stay, 34, her 39-year-old husband, Stephen, and four of their five children inside their suburban Houston home.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Haskell was seeking revenge against anyone who helped his ex-wife, Melannie Lyon, after their bitter divorce when he drove from California to Texas to carry out the execution.
“[Haskell] is a manipulator, he is a liar, he won’t change, and quite frankly, he doesn’t want to change,” Harris County Assistant District Attorney Samantha Knecht said Friday at his sentencing hearing.
The only survivor of the bloodbath, 19-year-old Cassidy Stay, put her head down and cried in the courtroom’s front row as his sentence was read. Stay previously told jurors she played dead after Haskell shot her in the head, then called police as he headed to her grandparents’ house to continue killing.
“I hope when you die, you will get the punishment you deserve from God. Only God can help you now,” Stay said in her victim impact statement, staring straight ahead as Haskell sat emotionless.
She added, “I know you will die from a lethal injection. It was the jury’s decision and respect. That doesn’t change what you did but I hope that when you die the punishment of God will come. ”
The emotional two-day hearing included testimony from Haskell’s older brother. The jury deliberated for less than five hours before determining his sentence.
During his trial, Haskell’s defense attorneys did not deny the 39-year-old committed the horrific crime, arguing instead that he was driven to kill by his mental-health problems and voices in his head.
At the sentencing hearing, attorney Neal Davis fought for Haskell’s life— arguing in his closing statement he deserves to “die in prison” and spend the rest of his life thinking about his crimes. Doug Durham, another defense attorney, slammed prosecutors for seeing a sentence based on “anger, hatred, fear, vengeance because of this terrible, terrible crime.”
“Sentencing him to death would be an act of vengeance, not justice,” Davis said Friday.
Robert Haskell, the convicted killer’s older brother, told jurors he believes his sibling “still has good in him” and won’t be a future danger to society if he is sentenced to life in prison. “I think that Ronnie can help other people,” Robert Haskell said, adding that his brother had expressed remorse for the slayings over the phone. “I don’t think he has a full understanding of the actual events that transpired.”
A forensic psychologist also testified during the sentencing hearing, saying he predicted a “very low” likelihood Haskell would commit future acts of violence.
Knecht argued against the mentally ill defense on Friday, calling the death sentence “the moment of justice” for the Stay family, while placing bullet casings for each of the six victims in front of the jury.
“This is a case about a plan. A plan that was created in anger and fueled by vengeance. But the plan is not complete,” Kent said before placing 20 more bullets to signify the other people Haskell wanted to kill.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Haskell carefully planned the slayings, even purchasing a FedEx uniform to wear as a disguise in order to gain entry to the Stay family’s residence. Haskell also allegedly made a pit stop in Utah to steal a gun from his ex-girlfriend, and then purchased over 200 rounds of ammo.
On July 9, 2014, after stalking the Stay home for two days, Haskell knocked on the door dressed in his FedEx outfit, prosecutors recounted to the jury on Friday. Cassidy Stay, then 15, previously testified in court she opened the door and told Haskell her parents were not home.
The 39-year-old left, only to return an hour later and force himself inside the house. Cassidy Stay testified that she was tied up and held at gunpoint with her siblings when her parents finally arrived.
“I went through and told him my brothers and sisters names and ages. I was appealing to his humanity. I didn’t think someone would hurt kids if they knew how old they were,” Stay told jurors.
Cassidy Stay testified her family was forced to lay down in a row before Haskell began shooting them in the head. When he fled, Stay said she immediately called the police, who apprehended Haskell near her grandparents’ home.
Lyon, 38, said the moment she heard about the murders, she knew her ex-husband was responsible.
“He had carried through on the promise to make me watch my family die,” said Lyon, who had been married to Haskell for 12 years before she left their Utah home in 2013.