Years before Rachel Winkler was fatally stabbed with scissors in her Cameron Park home, husband Todd Winkler violently flashed his anger by throttling her by the neck while at a bar in San Diego, Rachel Winkler’s younger brother testified Wednesday.
David Hatfield recounted his shock when, over casual drinks in 2006, Todd Winkler inexplicably, physically unleashed his anger upon Rachel Winkler.
“He mentioned something about a bad deal and something that frustrated him and he felt that his life had been put in danger,” Hatfield testified. “Then he (Todd Winkler) demonstrated what he would do to the guy” in the airplane deal. He used Rachel’s neck as a demonstration. He grabbed her by the larynx and shook her.
“She was his wife. I was taken aback. Rachel started crying, probably due to humiliation and pain.”
Todd Winkler, 47, a former Air Force fighter pilot and pharmaceutical marketing representative, is on trial in a Placerville courtroom for killing his wife, the mother of their three children and the manager of the Cameron Park Airpark on Feb. 27, 2012.
Winkler, who has pleaded not guilty of murder, admitted to his wife’s killing but says he acted in fear for his life during a struggle after Rachel Winkler, 37, came at him with a pair of scissors during an argument over terms of their pending divorce.
His lawyer, David Weiner, has asserted that Todd Winkler also suffered from a psychiatric condition, dissociative identity disorder, and was hospitalized for mental illness while on a business trip in Amsterdam and with the Air Force in Japan. He says his client killed Rachel Winkler as their confrontation provoked a psychotic episode.
The case is drawing national media attention, fueled by prosecutors introducing evidence of a fiery car accident off a Georgia forest road that killed Winkler’s previous wife, Catherine Winkler, 32, in 1999.
Todd Winkler collected nearly $1.2 million in life insurance settlements after the accident, in which he claimed he was thrown from the pickup truck.
Deputy District Attorney Lisette Suder argued that Winkler threatened Rachel Winkler by saying she could die in a similar accident – and he would collect another settlement – if she didn’t go along with his wishes in the divorce.
El Dorado County prosecutors have focused on other alleged violent or erratic behaviors.
A witness last week testified that Rachel Winkler told her that Todd had once beaten a man “to a bloody pulp” after the man flirted with Rachel while they were on vacation in Bali.
In nearly two hours of police interviews played in court, Winkler also admitted that he had punched his wife in the face before a “protracted” struggle ensued over the scissors.
A graduate of the Air Force Academy who flew F-16 fighter jets, Winkler told a detective he knowingly killed his wife, plunging the scissors into her neck as “she was, uh, begging for, uh, her life.”
At the time of the killing, Todd Winkler was working for Abbott Diabetes Care, earning $250,000 a year in salary, bonuses and stock. His family lived in an upscale pilots’ community near the airpark with a combo garage and aircraft hangar.
Eric Davis, Winkler’s supervisor at Abbott, testified Wednesday of an episode in Amsterdam when Winkler became paralyzed and unresponsive in his room before a 2011 business presentation and had to be hospitalized for a week.
In the weeks before Rachel Winkler’s death, Davis said Todd Winkler told him that Rachel was the one with mental health problems.
Davis said Winkler complained about the emotional state of a wife “who was very, very depressed.” He said Winkler told him he needed time off to tend to Rachel’s needs and those of their children.
Davis said he followed up with Todd Winkler and got a text message on Feb. 10, 2012. It read: “Trying to get Rachel stabilized. Hard. Outcome unknown.”
A little more than two weeks later, the Abbott supervisor said he got two more texts from Winkler:
“Very serious home situation. Out all week.”
A day later, Davis testified, he learned that Rachel Winkler was dead.