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 >Sacbee.com< 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:
The following are news photos covering trial in Placerville, California: