Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hatfield Comments On Daughter's Murder Trial

Now that I know that what I say on my blog will not be introduced into evidence at my daughter, Rachel's, murder trial,  I am free to comment.  I  shut down most of my blogging three years ago fearing the defense would use anything I said  against Rachel in their self-defense case on behalf of the killer.

This case, along with my protracted custody battle for my three grandchildren,  was thoroughly covered by the  Sacramento Bee from February 27, 2012, to the present day.  All of the newspaper coverage may be found at >< then put Winkler Murder Trial in the search field.

My wife, Janey, finished her fight against cancer on Jan 27, 2012, and Rachel was murdered one month later.  One day after Rachel's death I was granted temporary custody of her three small children, ages 9 months, 2, and 4 years.  I became permanent guardian three months later after a big court fight.

Now, about three years later, the verdict was handed down by a 12 man jury of "guilty in the first degree"--giving Todd Winkler, Rachel's husband and killer , 26 years to life.

I have been swarmed by news media, well wishers, and strangers from all over the world--"…how do you feel about the verdict ?", "…"how can you raise small children  at your age (67)?", "...where do you find the strength?" etc.  

A book has been suggested,  women's advocacy groups have inquired, 48Hours Murder Mystery is doing a show to be aired soon, articles have appeared at home and abroad.

Then there is the avalanche of inapplicable advise, phony condolences, and half ass comments.  Not to mention those whose questions reflect nothing more than a desire to be entertained.

I have always been a sitting target  for such crap since I have a big mouth and volunteer way to much intensity at the verbal level--the aggravation that this style creates is beginning to carve me into a humanoid who can "…shut the fuck up once in awhile."

I have learned to wave the white flag at times and have received incredible support financially , psychologically, and spiritually.  About $70,000 came in the first year after Rachel's death from her friends and my art collectors.  At least 4 families in the Napa area have "adopted" my three grandchildren and provide continuous love.  St. John's Lutheran School has become Holy Ground for me and my kids who attend school there.

How DO I feel?--none of your damed business!  See I am learning!

I will say that since this verdict came down I have felt some kind of quiet strength, mojo, juice,  interest in life, or something start to flow back into my body and soul.  I no longer fear an acquittal of the killer or the possibility of meeting him face to face, or of having to give his children back to him--these nightmares are abating.

The victims of Todd Winkler's crime will be giving "victims impact statements" at the sentencing on Dec 8.  I am planning a statement for the ages.  I am fully aware of the danger of providing irrational rants or non-applicable verbal garbage at the sentencing.  There is a ton of scholarship offered online about  VIS (victim impact statements)--these academic studies provide arguments pro and con centering on the social, political, and psychological effects of VIS.  Some of it is ivory tower BS, and most of the scholarship is offered by those who have never lost a love one in a heinous crime.  

VIS show up in future parole hearings and also seem to have some bearing on the sentence itself--so forethought is in play.

I had a couple of "visitations" from Rachel at the trial that were poignant.   I was allowed to attend the trial after I was put on the witness stand to be grilled by the defense.  For three days I listened to the defense spin out drivel about Rachel's character.  For three days I listened to the defense spin out drivel about the killer's character.  I was depressed beyond description--it only takes one juror who would buy this stuff to create a hung jury, or to reduce the sentence.

We , those who love Rachel,  were constantly analyzing the demeanor of every juror throughout the proceedings.  We even had names for them--"Cue Ball, Fat Lady, Barney Business Man, The Hippey, The Three Housewives, Yoda etc.  They would slouch, doze off, look at the floor, nod, shift in their seats, the whole bit.  By the closing statements I was mentally depleted beyond words--scared shitless and mad may be better descriptives.

My first "visitation" occurred in the middle of the Defense's statements--in a state of deep depression I saw out of the corner of my eye a little girl seated to my right that I knew Rachel loved profoundly--I turned and looked at her and thought I heard Rachel say. "Hi Dad, you know that my life was all about love--don't be angry- everything will be alright, love will have the final word."  Well, that changed me on the spot and peace carried me for the rest of that day.

I needed some grace again after the jury was finally retired.  None of us knew how long the jury would take to come in with a verdict. It was nerve wracking--all of my cynicism, doubt, and fear were present.  While staring out the window of the men's room in the Placerville courthouse I felt Rachel's love again, and all was peace and comfort again--thanks be to God.

In the Prosecution's closing argument pictures of Rachel's mangled body were flashed on the big screen  over and over again to refresh the jury.  The Prosecutor would signal me to look away when the pictures came up.  I turned my back to the screen and watched the faces of those who were looking at the pictures of Rachel's body at the crime scene. People winced, cried, looked away, bowed their heads, groaned.  I would not look--I remembered that Rachel was perfect where she was in glory, and was no longer inhabiting that broken body, and I was delivered instantly from despair.  The jury was dismissed at 10:45 after receiving instructions, and the trial was finally over after three long years.

So, the jury was working on the verdict.  Court was adjourned until is was time to deliver the word.  The news agencies lingered around town along with friends and family.  My sons left for home in San Diego because of work schedules.  I went to lunch with some news people and my old friend, Attorney Wendy Coghlan, who so successfully represented me in the custody trial.  We all ordered lunch, Wendy excused herself to make some calls, and we waited--speculating whether we would get a verdict in a day, a week, or what.

Before I could finish my taco salad Renee Byer the Pulitzer Prize photo-journalist received a text message from Peter Hecht, the Sac Bee reporter assigned to the case--"…JURY HAS DECISION, RETURN TO THE COURTHOUSE!"

We all jumped up sprinted to the court room.  I left Wendy's purse at the table, but she gathered it and followed.

Twenty minutes later the jury filed in to a packed court room along with three muscular, armed detectives joining the four bailiffs already present.

For the first time every juror sat erect--their faces set like flint in the direction of the judge.  The judge asked, "do you have a verdict?"  "Yes, we do" came the reply from the foreman.  A bailiff gathered the written verdict and handed it to the judge.  The judge looked at it and gave it to the court secretary sitting at his immediate right.

At this point I grabbed Wendy's hand and squeezed, and before I could take a breath--the court secretary said, "We, the jury find Todd Winkler guilty in the first degree."  I raised Wendy's hand and kissed it.

The judge then asked for a verbal confirmation of the sentence from each juror.  I looked to my right and saw 12 people lined up in two rows of six looking like the Praetorian Guard at attention. "Cue Ball, how do you find the defendant?"--"Guilty of murder in the first degree" came the reply.  "Fat Lady, how do you find the defendant?"--"Guilty of murder in the first degree" came the reply. "Barney Businessman, how do you find the defendant?" -- "Guilty of murder in the first degree…."  and so on until all twelve had delivered their finding. Their faces stern, their bodies erect, their voices penetrating the courtroom--judgement day had arrived and the waters of justice flowed down Mt. Zion like a mighty torrent!

At this point I wept.  I saw the heavens open and the heads of the twelve tribes of Isreal sound a common summons: "… Justice will prevail on the earth!"

A bit overstated, I know, but you had to be sitting where I was to get it.

Talk to ya down the road, Don Hatfield

The following are news photos covering trial in Placerville, California:

Prosecutor Suder points to Winkler in final arguement

Suder strengthens case

Hatfield responds to jury as they declare individually the guilty verdict

Love you, Don

Hi Dad, it's all about love!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pink Shawl

This is a 36by48 I just did.

Friday, March 7, 2014


I first heard of Sergei from my great teacher and mentor, Charles Cross, in 1970. Sergei was teaching in Santa Monica at the time, but what interested me was Charles' designation--"the Great Sergei Bongart." Charlie did not throw praise around much, so I was curious about this Russian teacher who struck fear and awe in everyone who encountered him. In 1980, after returning to California from Indianapolis to seek additional art training, I was directed by Don Putman to Sergei's classes in Los Angeles. I sought admittance with great anticipation.

Sergei held oil painting classes at the Business Men's Art Club, an old building that was once the Los Angeles School of Artistic Whistling. It was an ancient two story Victorian that had achieved historical monument status. Downstairs Sergei's proven devotees painted the figure from life, while novitiates were consigned to the upstairs region to sweat out the still life. Upon arrival at Sergei's dojo I was immediately ushered upstairs by his loyal assistant, Sonny (like Sony television) Apichapong. I was left alone with twenty or so still life set ups of plastic flowers, green bottles, copper pots, and stuffed fowl. After my first hour of painting misery, I heard these clomping footsteps coming up the wooden staircase--it was Sergei! "Hower ju?" "Vut ju doink?" "Steel life es goot packtice" (Russian idiom anglicized).

I had prepared myself for this initial encounter by memorizing the name and basic biography of every great Russian artist of the previous 100 years--Serov, Repin, Maliavan, Ivan Shiskin, Levitan, Constantinen, and all the rest. Sergei was really impressed if I must say so--not with my painting, but with my hastily acquired knowledge of Russian art history. My strategy was to connect any way I could with the Great Master. My early painting skill was marginal at best, but that would all change--I had gained his attention at this point and that was good enough. The thought of private moments with Sergei was golden indeed. I felt special. The future looked bright.

So it began. From that first day forward Sergei would hike up the winding staircase about twenty minutes after class began, and we would discuss Russian art amid a few comments about my still life painting. "Too much color--paintink luk like monkey's behind." "Red is trouble--luk like Red Sea" "Too many wiggle schmigle brush strook." "Don't tink jus paint." "Put down strook and leave alone." Sergei would often paint right over the top of my efforts and do what amounted to a Sergei work over. He did this a number of times for me, and I would sell them to other students to pay my tuition. This pissed off Sonny--but I was broke and desperate to learn.

Sergei was a typical professorial type who took every question as a cue for a ten minute lecture that would often veer off into personal anecdotes. The stories of drinking bouts with fellow artists, his hatred for the communists, stories of his life in Russia, his comments about artists living and dead just poured out in response to my poignant queries. I figured out how to push his Russian buttons. He hated the movie "Reds", but he loved Ronald Reagan who he felt was the first American President to stand up to the Soviets. It was easy to see his love and frustration with the Mother Country. He was certain that if he ever returned to the Homeland he would be imprisoned in Siberia for good.

After a few months of study, Sergei gave me my first homework assignment. "Go home, paint white paintink, bring back, I critique." I gathered every white object I could find--eggs, paper towels, napkins, plastic spoons—whatever. I painted a 40 by 40in canvas and plunked it down in front of the whole class--and Sergei. "Dis is goot (good) paintink-- now... go home paint red paintink." That was all he said—BUT, he did say that it was "GOOT”. I had scored, I was an artist!--Sergei told me so with the word "Goot." So the next week I returned with a painting of every red object I could find. Same program--only this time Sergei placed my 40by40 painting in front of what seemed a much larger class. I felt this effort was superior to the last, and I waited to be knighted, to be elevated to the level of the gods, to receive the great big okie dokie from the master himself--in front of the home crowd! guessed it. "Dis is not art" was the opening salvo--followed by--"Dis is like baby wit coolorink buk--draw circle, color in circle”. "Is like little boy wit crayon”. By this time Sonny was doubled over in restrained laughter. The rest of the class was dead silent. Sergei turned and marched off into his office leaving me alone, stripped to the bone in front of 40 devotees and Sonny. I felt that my guts had been looted clean of all my artistic hopes. So I went on the attack--", and, and too!" I retreated upstairs burning with rage and embarrassment.

Ten minutes later Sonny came up and said, "Sergei wants to speak with you privately in his office."As I was escorted downstairs, I was certain that I would be kicked out of the school. I had gone off like a mad man, verbally attacking innocent bystanders. I had completely blown my shot at study with the Great One--what could I do, where could I go, how would I live this down? I thought about just heading out to my car and driving off-- leaving his school and its dummies--I was really undone. But I decided to face the music. Sonny ushered me past the 40 students in the life class who seemed to give me the evil eye. Down the hall to the left was the Holy of Holies--Sergei's office. This was strictly off limits to students, but this day I was invited in--I was mortified. Sonny opened the door, and there sat Sergei behind his desk waiting for me.

There were four great moments in my student years that I felt shaped my destiny as an artist. They are written on the fleshly tablets of my heart, and I can talk about the time, the place, and the psychological context of each one of them. What occurred in Sergei's office that day in the summer of 1980 was one of these moments.

 At that point in my life, I felt I had nothing going for me except a beautiful wife and four beautiful children--no certain career, no money earning capacity--no mojo! My wife, Diana, had gone back to nursing so I could pursue my art--we were living with four small children in voluntary poverty in those years so I could study and paint all day with the outside chance that I would eventually become an artist and make a living at it. And now this!

It was a great privilege to study with Sergei, but you had better be serious--from time to time he would stage back door revivals to run off the deadwood--those who were there for looks or on a whim. And now I was about to join the ranks of the discarded.

Well to make it short--Sergei stood up and began, "Why you doo dis?" "You could be great artist, but you scare people--you like Bolshivik." "Now... go upstairs, go paint, shut up, just work--go!" And that was it! I was not kicked out as I had feared, and he let me off the hook with minimum scolding and a few exhortations. I felt the blood, the mojo, the soul return to my body. I was going to live after all! My learning and painting skill seemed to accelerate from then on--I had been given the grace I needed at the right time.

A fresh breeze had swept across my career dreams. My hope and ambition reached new heights. I moved downstairs with the devotees to paint from the live nude. I began to receive Sergei’s praise and the respect of the class. A year later I said goodbye to The School of Artistic Whistling, to Sonny, and to the Great One. My dream of becoming a self-supporting oil painter was soon realized—thanks in part to that great moment with Sergei.

Don Hatfield

Postscript: To this day I can still hear Sergei’s footsteps ascending that old wooden staircase. I recall the thrill, the fear and awe of that sound. All of his teaching and spirit have long since been internalized. I have heard his voice in a thousand canvasses. There are no more great teachers out there for me now—it is my turn now, my day, my life. Strange though—in some ways, at 67, I still fell like that young guy four decades ago stuck upstairs waiting for the Great One.