The questions sear at the soul of Don Hatfield, a devoutly religious man.
Why did he try to persuade his daughter Rachel Winkler to stay in a troubled marriage? And why didn’t he listen to his fears that suggested her life might have been in danger?
“That’s the question I ask myself every day in my life,” Hatfield said Tuesday, as he took the witness stand in the murder trial of Todd Winkler, Rachel Winkler’s husband. “Why didn’t I see the writing on the wall? Why didn’t I snatch (Rachel) away and jump in and rescue her?”
Hatfield, an acclaimed impressionist painter who grieves over the loss of his “brilliant and soulful and articulate” daughter as he now raises her three small children, was the final witness called by prosecution in a sensational murder trial.
Todd Winkler, 47, a former Air Force F-16 fighter pilot and a wealthy pharmaceutical executive, is charged with murder for plunging a pair of scissors into the neck of Rachel, 37, amid an argument over their pending divorce. His lawyer says Winkler committed the Feb. 27, 2012, killing in their upscale Cameron Park house in the throes of a psychiatric episode after his wife came at him with the scissors.
Network newsmagazine crews are packing the Placerville courthouse, drawn in part by the mystery of Todd’s previous wife, Catherine, dying in a fiery Georgia car accident for which he collected nearly $1.2 million in insurance settlements. They also have been intensely following testimony of James White, 46, of Rescue, Rachel Winkler’s extramarital lover.
On Tuesday, the prosecution rested its case after Hatfield’s culminating testimony delivered an emotional flourish for jurors and the courtroom gallery.
Sad and reflective during questioning by El Dorado County prosecutor Lisette Suder, angry and combative in cross-examination by defense lawyer David Weiner, Hatfield in two hours of testimony peeled back tortuous layers of the last months of Rachel Winkler’s life.
He testified that he believed so strongly “in the preservation of the nuclear family” that he tried to dissuade his daughter from divorce and to talk her out of her affair with White, a real estate appraiser and one-time handyman at the Cameron Air Park, where Rachel worked as manager.
He talked about fearing for his daughter after she said her husband staged a nervous breakdown at an international business conference. Hatfield said Rachel also told him – maybe in the final days, he couldn’t really recall – that she had been raped by her husband in their kitchen many months earlier.
Hatfield had lost his wife, Janey, to cancer a month before his daughter’s killing. And Tuesday, he seethed when the defense tried to pin him down when he learned about the alleged rape and whether he knew for sure that Rachel intended to leave her husband.
“I knew the relationship (between Todd and Rachel Winkler) was profoundly troubled,” Hatfield said. “I never believed the relationship would have ended up in the slaughter of my daughter by her husband.”
Hatfield testified that Todd Winkler began calling him pleadingly in the final months of Rachel’s life.
“It was completely new and strange,” Hatfield said of the first call he got from Todd Winkler about problems in the marriage. “He called me in this high-pitched voice, like a little child saying, ‘Daddy, what am I going to do ... I am desperate.’ ”
He said Todd Winkler told him he “wanted to save his family” and “started attacking Rachel as being psychologically unstable.”
Hatfield said his daughter wasn’t the unstable one. In late 2011, Hatfield said, he called a pastor friend, a psychologist, to express fears over his daughter, over her marriage and her safety.
He said he was frightened by Rachel telling him in late 2011 that Todd wanted to defraud his company, Abbott Pharmaceuticals, and that Todd planned the breakdown in Amsterdam and talked of staging a car accident as part of a ruse for a lawsuit.
But Tuesday, Hatfield said he still didn’t fathom the danger his daughter faced. He was still trying to save her marriage to Todd.
Less than two weeks before his daughter’s death, Hatfield accompanied Todd Winkler on a visit to the house where James White was staying. He testified it was his idea: He said he told his son-in-law to ask Rachel’s lover to end the affair.
Hatfield said he waited in the car as Todd Winkler, holding the family’s baby, Alex, spoke to White.
White testified last Thursday that “Todd said to me, ‘Rachel and I are not divorced yet. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t see her again.’ ”
White, who faced continued defense questioning Tuesday before Hatfield took the stand, said Rachel Winkler felt badly about her father’s disapproval of her affair and was having difficulty with his efforts to keep her marriage intact.
White read a text from Rachel he got in December 2011.
“I’ve been in hot, hot water with my dad and Todd,” Rachel said in the text. “They are trying to save the family like a full-time passion. I’m definitely the bad guy now, and it’s hard.”
In his testimony, Hatfield painfully reflected on his opposition to Rachel and Todd getting a divorce.
But during cross-examination, he bristled after Weiner tried to suggest Hatfield had a friendly relationship with Todd Winkler.
Hatfield conceded he occasionally played golf with his son-in-law and that Winkler called him “the dad he never had.” Then he spoke in anger.
“That was a relationship that had some viability,” Hatfield said, “right up to the time when he killed my daughter.”
The defense is to begin presenting its case today. Weiner said he expects to call Todd Winkler as a witness during the trial.