Grandfather can keep 3 young kids under court pact

This is another in a series of stories about Napa artist Don Hatfield and his quest to win guardianship of his three young grandchildren. To read earlier installments, go to:

The young children of Rachel Winkler, who died of stab wounds inflicted by her husband inside their Cameron Park home, will remain with their maternal grandfather, Napa artist Don Hatfield.

Hatfield and the children's paternal grandmother, Janeth Winkler of Iowa, reached an agreement Wednesday during a private mediation session in El Dorado County Superior Court.

Janeth Winkler had argued that Eva, 5, Ariel, 3, and Alex, 11 months, should come to live with her and her husband, George, in a small Iowa town. Winkler's son, Todd, had told the court that he wanted his children to be with his mother. Todd Winkler, 45, has been charged with murder in the case. He has pleaded not guilty, and awaits his trial in the El Dorado County jail.

After huddling with their lawyers and a mediator for more than two hours Wednesday, the parties reached an agreement that will give Hatfield primary guardianship and grants Janeth Winkler visitation rights.

The court is expected to sign off on the agreement today.

The children have been living with Hatfield since Rachel Winkler, 37, was killed in late February. Her husband maintains he inflicted the fatal wound in self-defense after she came at him with scissors during an argument.

Hatfield's lawyer, Wendy Coughlan, argued in court papers that sending the children to Iowa would be "extremely confusing and disruptive" and would stall their recovery from the trauma they have suffered.

The children were at home at the time of their mother's death, though no one is certain what they saw or might remember.

Coughlan cited the "stable and secure environment" that Hatfield has created in Napa, and the large support system of extended family members and friends who are helping to care for the youngsters.

Hatfield, she said, "has been the primary provider of reassurance, hugs, holding and comfort to the children."

Coughlan called the guardianship agreement "a happy outcome for everyone, especially for the children."

Janeth Winkler and her lawyer, Lilka Martinez, left the premises without speaking to reporters. Winkler had argued she was the only grandparent trusted to care for the children over long periods prior to their mother's death.

Coughlan said Winkler, a social worker, will get to see her grandchildren every other Christmas holiday for two weeks, and every summer for four weeks. She also is allowed to visit the children in California "anytime she likes, with notice to Don," said Coughlan.

Hatfield, who lost his wife, Janie, to cancer in January – a month before his daughter was killed – turned 65 on Wednesday. He expressed relief at the court's decision.

"There was always a question as to how things would turn out, so I had a certain amount of trepidation," he said. "But I'm very pleased with the outcome."

Asked whether he would celebrate the day, Hatfield said he had nothing special planned.

"I'm just going to breathe deep, enjoy it and spend some time with the kids," he said.

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