Houston shooter had Utah rap sheet

Friday , July 11, 2014 - 5:21 PM

By MARK SAAL, CIMARON NEUGEBAUER Standard-Examiner staff
and MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press

SMITHFIELD — Neighbors say a Cache Valley man appeared to be someone going through marital troubles, but he didn't wear his heart on his sleeve then. Locals have memories of quite a different man than the one who is now being charged with multiple counts of capital murder in Texas.

Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, lived in the Logan area at least as recently as December 2013, and has had multiple run-ins with Cache County law enforcement over the past few years.

Buddy Young, a neighbor in Smithfield worked with Haskell in a neighborhood home building program, including the home Haskell planned to move in with his wife.

Young didn't know Haskell well, but never would have imagined seeing the same man he swung a hammer with to build his future home being someone he would see on national news reports for such a heinous crime.

”How do you just think someone could end up murdering a family?” he told the Standard-Examiner Thursday night.

In the rural neighborhood all prospective homeowners in a subdivision put their sweat equity into a group federal mutual self-help housing program called Neighborhood nonprofit where neighbors assist each other build their homes in a subdivision.

"This whole story of what he did, I just can’t believe it. I would never imagine in a million years.“

The Haskell couple had children of their own, but never ended up moving into the house finished the home since they were divorced on Valentine’s Day. 

Young said he never saw him being angry toward his wife or talk negative of her, in fact his impression was quite the opposite.

"He was kind of a little prankster, he had a good attitude, he was a hard worker,” Young recalls of Haskell.

The first four months of work on the house Haskell was really helpful and contributed to construction on the homes in the area. Over time Haskell’s wife, at the time, would show up to work on the home alone and then sometimes only Haskell would show up. Word circulated that the couple was having some marital problems, but no other details were really given. The house was completed in August last year along with the rest of the homes in the area that were part of a Neighborhood nonprofit program.

Young said he can’t comprehend what happened or what the family members of all involved must be going through.

”I just feel horrible for her family,” he said.

There wasn't any writing on the wall for the group of families building their homes in Cache Valley.

“Basically, we show up to go to work and we do what we need to do.” Young said adding that no one really into anyone’s personal lives.

"As far as I was concerned, he was a good hand,“ he said of Haskell and his work ethic and ability. ”He had knowledge in the construction field. He had all his own tools. He looked like a pretty normal guy to me.“

No one really knew anything was ticking under the surface for Haskell or had reason to expect him to act so violently.

”It seems that is always how it is,“ Young said. ”With anything crazy like this you never catch on to what is going on until it is too late.“

Haskell has been charged in Texas with multiple counts of capital murder, and is also accused of critically wounding a 15-year-old girl. The 33-year-old man is accused of killing his ex-wife’s sister, Katie Stay, and her husband and the children ranging in age from 4 to 14, after binding them and putting the family face-down on the floor of their home. Haskell tied the family up and shot them in the back of the head when they refused to tell him where his ex-wife was, authorities said Thursday. 

Documents from Thursday’s preliminary court hearing show that the daughter who survived attempted to close the door after telling Haskell her parents were not home. But he kicked it in. The teen remained in critical condition in a Houston hospital.

Police say the gunman, dressed as a parcel delivery man, forced his way into his sister-in-law’s Spring, Texas, home and shot her dead, along with her husband and four of their children.

Lt. Doyle Peck, of the Cache County Sheriff’s Office, says Haskell was a recent resident of Logan and has had “multiple involvements” with the Logan City Police Department. On June 5, 2008, Haskell was booked into the Cache County Jail on charges of simple assault and child abuse or neglect, both class B misdemeanors, according to Peck.

“He mostly had run-ins with the Logan Police Department,” Peck said of the accused shooter. “But he spent time in our jail back in 2008.”

Peck said Haskell spent about five hours in the Cache County Jail on those June 5, 2008, charges before posting bail with a $2,839 bond.

“In 2012 and 2013, we seemed to see an increase in his involvement with law enforcement here,” Peck said. He doesn’t know if those run-ins were in any way tied to the events in Texas.

Haskell’s criminal record in Utah includes one conviction for assault and domestic violence in the presence of a child in 2008, according to the state court’s database.

He pleaded guilty to the assault charge in a plea bargain in return for dismissal of the second charge, both class B misdemeanors. The assault charge was dismissed a year later under terms of a “plea in abeyance” which closes the case if no further violations occur.

Logan police in a press release Thursday described the details of the June 4, 2008 assault of Haskell on his then-wife Melanie: “Melanie Haskell stated her husband Ronald had drug her by her hair and struck her in the head, and then did it again in front of the children.”

He was arrested and booked into the Cache County Jail.

Logan departmental records show other contacts with Haskell “non criminal in nature and not involving both Ronald and Melanie.”

Ronald reported a welfare check on her in September of 2009, according to Logan police.

“He stated his wife had left and left a note which made him concerned for her safety. A short time later he returned with his wife in the car and told officers he was taking her to the hospital.”

In August of 2013 Melanie reported a protective order violation. She had filed the protective order in conjunction with the divorce proceeding she initiated against him earlier in 2013. “It was stated Ronald had made threats against her to his attorney.”

In October of 2013 Melanie reported a possible protective order violation because Ronald had shown up at one of the children’s elementary schools. This protective order was actually served on him the day of the complaint. Neither protective order violation was prosecuted.

In October of 2013 Robert Haskell, the brother of Ronald Haskell, called in a welfare check stating he was concerned for Ronald’s safety. Robert contacted the police back and stated he had spoken with Ronald and he was fine. No contact was made with Ronald.

“The Logan City Police have had no contact with Ronald or Melanie since October of 2013,” reads the department’s release.

Just Thursday afternoon the Logan department formally requested all the 1st District Court documents related to the protective order and the divorce.

Her divorce of Haskell was finalized in February of this year.

At Spring, Texas, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman says Haskell is married to the sister of the woman who was killed.

The sheriff’s office said in a statement Thursday that Haskell demanded to know the whereabouts of his estranged wife. He held several children at gunpoint until more family members arrived home. He then shot six of them, five fatally.

He will be arraigned Friday.

“I have not personally in 40 years seen a tragedy in one family that is this horrific,” Constable Ron Hickman said.

The children killed were two boys ages 4 and 14, plus two girls ages 7 and 9. Their parents were Katie and Stephen Stay, according to court documents. The father, a real estate agent, was 39 and the mother was 33, according to Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Gilliland.

Haskell “gathered up the children that were here and awaited the arrival of the parents,” Hickman told reporters outside the home Thursday. “Some time later the victims were shot in the residence.”

Hickman said Haskell “came in the guise of a FedEx driver wearing a FedEx shirt.”

Federal Express said in a statement that Haskell had “formerly provided service” for the company, but has not done so since January.

Hickman said that after Haskell left the home the injured teenage girl — also a daughter of the murdered couple — contacted authorities telling them the shooter was en route to shoot other family members.

Law enforcement personnel located Haskell’s car and a low-speed chase ensued, ending in a cul-de-sac, Hickman said. A standoff then lasted more than three hours before Haskell exited the car, sank to his knees and surrendered.

At one point during the standoff tactical officers used a large armored vehicle to ram the front of his car, disabling it. Another armored vehicle was used to ram the rear of the car, preventing any chance of escape.

The sheriff’s department said precinct deputy constables were called to the house about 6 p.m. Wednesday and found the parents and three children dead. Another child later died at a hospital.

Gilliland said the teenager was in “very critical condition” at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston late Wednesday night.

Gilliland described Haskell after the standoff as “cool as a cucumber.” He said that when he and other officers first approached, Haskell was “just sitting in his car looking out at us.”

Hickman said Haskell surrendered without resistance.

“He was in the car for 3½ hours. He was worn down like the rest of us,” he said.

A fundraiser has been established on GoFundMe.com for the surviving victim of the shooting. As of Thursday evening, nearly $60,000 was raised. 

Tim Gurrister and Andreas Rivera contributed to this report.

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