Man who used branding iron on kids found not guilty of one assault count; mistrial on other count
Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News (c) 2010
Mark J. Seamands, right, shakes hands with his lawyer, Loren Oakley of the Clallam County Public Defender's Office, after he was found not guilty of second-degree assault. A mistrial was declared in a second count at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles.
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The jury is deadlocked on a lesser charge of fourth-degree assault. Superior Court Judge Brooke Taylor declared a mistrial on that count.
See later report under Breaking News.
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES -- A Clallam County jury will begin deciding at 9 a.m. today if Mark J. Seamands of Sequim should be convicted of assault for branding his two teenage sons like cattle as "a family thing."
Testimony and closing arguments concluded late Tuesday in the two-day Superior Court trial.
It could end with Seamands, 39, being sentenced for up to 12 to 14 months for branding "SK" -- for "Seamands Kids" -- on the chest of his then-13-year-old son and the arm of his then-15-year-old son.
He branded them on Nov. 25, 2008, after they asked him to do it, the father and both boys testified.
'Asked to be branded'
"I asked to be branded," the younger son, now 15, testified Tuesday.
He wanted to be branded, he said, "because I was going to be part of this family my whole life."
On the same day, a friend branded "SK" on the arm of the father with the same red-hot branding iron, according to the father's testimony.
The father also branded his then-18-year-old daughter.
In closing arguments, lawyer Loren Oakley of the county Public Defender's Office, who is representing Seamands, did not dispute that Seamands branded his children.
Oakley compared the branding to circumcision.
He said there was no evidence of criminal intent and claimed the boys were not "disfigured."
"This is a case about different strokes for different folks," Oakley said.
Presenting a starkly different view, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Troberg said despite the sons' willingness to be branded, Seamands "didn't do his job as a parent" and acted irresponsibly by putting them under risk of infection and scarring them.
"In this state, we do not let minor children be branded like livestock," Troberg said.
Seamands, who in testimony called branding "a family thing" and the brand "a family brand," is charged with two counts of second-degree assault-domestic violence.
He did it with a foot-long, loop-handled branding iron that he had made, which had the 3-inch-by-3-inch letters "SK," Seamands said.
Seamands testified he had originally planned to have only his own arm branded by a friend, Dennis Secord of Sequim.
Seamands said he felt pressured to brand his youngest son, who threatened to have it done by someone else if his father didn't do it.
Secord testified the brand was heated by propane flame from a crab cooker.
That same day Seamands also branded his then-18-year-old daughter on her calf.
He said he wanted to bring the family closer while he and their mother were getting divorced.
They all were at Secord's home for the procedure.
Asked for it
"I branded them because they asked for it," Seamands testified.
The daughter testified Tuesday that she wanted to be branded and, like her brothers, said she believed the experience bonded the family tighter.
The boys live with the father. All three siblings testified the procedure did not hurt.
The daughter, Paige Davis of Boise, Idaho, had been contemplating getting branded with the SK signature "since I was a little kid," she testified.
Her brothers testified that they, too, had been contemplating the procedure.
"The family was going through a divorce, and we felt like they were be separated and wanted to do something to bond together," Davis testified.
"It was the same thing as a family getting together to get a tattoo. We just wanted to do something."
Seamands was not charged with assault for branding his daughter because she was old enough to give consent.
Seamands said he had permission to brand the boys from the children's mother.
But Seamands' ex-wife told police she was horrified when she saw the brands burned into the youngest boy's chest, the other boy's arm and the calf of the daughter's leg.
Pam Davis of Sequim, the boys' grandmother and Seamands' ex-mother-in-law, attended the trial and said in an interview during a recess that she was sickened by what Seamands did.
Her younger grandson was shirtless and playing pingpong at her house the day before Thanksgiving 2008 when she noticed the "SK" burned into the 13-year-old's upper chest, she said
"It made me sick to my stomach," Davis said.
"I just looked at this thing on his chest. It was just like an animal getting branded.
"I want to see the man in jail. He needs to pay for what he's done."
Seamands testified he "barely" touched his two sons with the branding iron.
In a family cell-phone video played for the jury of the 13-year-old being branded, the boy is seen flinching when Seamands applies the brand, then again as Seamands applies it a second time to the same spot to better define the mark, Seamands said.
'Be there for them'
"I believe this helped amplify the fact that I would be there for them through anything," Seamands said.
"If I ever thought it was a crime, I would have never done it."
He said he branded livestock while growing up on is family farm and his experience made him comfortable branding his children.
Authorities including Child Protective Services were notified in late 2008 by a history teacher -- an uncle of one of the boys, Davis said.
Child Protective Services did not take any action against Seamands, Seamands testified.
Seamands minimized the impact of branding his children in a December 2008 interview with county Sheriff's Office investigators, comparing it to ear-piercing and getting hit by a water balloon.
"It's not like mutilating your kid," Seamands said.
"They do it all the time in college with hangars or whatever they can fabricate," he added.
Clallam County Superior Judge Brooke S. Taylor ruled earlier Tuesday against Oakley's motion for dismissal.
Taylor said the boys suffered second-degree burns and that children cannot consent to be assaulted, which includes being intentionally burned by a branding iron.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at email@example.com.
Last modified: May 13. 2010 6:15PM