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Defense expert says murder suspect was beset with psychological disorders

Todd Winkler is led into El Dorado County Superior Court by Eric Schlueter, one of his defense attorneys, on Tuesday in Placerville.
Todd Winkler is led into El Dorado County Superior Court by Eric Schlueter, one of his defense attorneys, on Tuesday in Placerville. rbyer@sacbee.com

A defense psychiatrist, summoned to probe the mind of Todd Winkler, testified Wednesday that the former Air Force fighter pilot was suffering from multiple psychiatric disorders when he killed his wife in their Cameron Park home.

Dr. Frank Lossy said Winkler was afflicted with a condition called dissociative disorder during the struggle that ended when he plunged a pair of scissors into the neck of Rachel Winkler, 37, on February 27, 2012.

Lossy also said Todd Winkler suffered from competing personality traits – one wanting to be a hero and the other motivated toward violent anger by a sense of failure.

The 90-year-old psychiatrist, an academic researcher in psychiatry and neurology who has been a psychiatrist for 60 years, also testified that Winkler had an even rarer condition, called conversion disorder. He said the disorder caused Winkler’s emotionally conflicted mind to overrule his body, disabling his right arm and hand and rendering him mute as he struggled with Rachel over the scissors.

Winkler, a pharmaceutical executive, had testified Tuesday that he became physically “exhausted” in the confrontation with his spouse, who was half his size. He said he feared he might die and that he ultimately killed Rachel with the scissors – grasped with his left hand – as she was begging to live.

On the witness stand Wednesday, Lossy said Winkler’s reported loss of control of his right side during the struggle was a physical manifestation of “an attempt to defend oneself against an unacceptable inner conflict” in his mind.

He said Winkler entered an alternative reality as a result of dissociative disorder, in which a sudden, “intense anger” overrides the ability to restrain dangerous psychological seeds “of becoming hurtful and violent.”

In aggressive cross-examination, prosecutor Lisette Suder wasn’t having any of it.

She depicted Lossy, a paid witness who interviewed Winkler for 10 hours and reviewed his psychiatric records, as an enabler for a defense strategy to hide Todd Winkler’s history as a liar and manipulator and to explain away the brutal killing of Rachel Winkler.

She asked the psychiatrist whether he looked for another psychiatric condition – called malingering. Reading from psychiatric literature in the courtroom, Suder said the condition includes faking the “signs and symptoms of a mental disorder” for financial gain or avoiding a difficult situation such as “a legal problem.”

Lossy said his interview of Winkler and reviews of his psychiatric records indicated that Winkler had no such condition.

He testified that Winkler’s dissociative disorder revealed itself during an emotional breakdown in 1992, when Winkler was stationed in Japan as an Air Force F-16 fighter pilot in a squadron known as the “Fighting Samurai.”

Winkler was grounded from flying – and sent for psychiatric care at a military hospital in Hawaii – after he exploded in rage at a commanding officer who confronted him over a shoplifting incident.

Lossy said psychiatrists at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu concluded that Winkler had amnesia and no recollection of the shoplifting incident at another military base in Korea.

Winkler had an approval-seeking personality trait in which saw himself as a heroic figure – “like a samurai warrior who would defend the weak and the innocent from aggression,” Lossy said. But when confronted by his commanding officer over the shoplifting incident, Winkler lost out to a competing personality trait and “the kind of violent behavior he tried to keep under wraps.”

The doctor said Winkler, who admitted stabbing his wife to death after a bitter argument over child custody and their pending divorce, had the psychological seeds of a “violent state” that could erupt when Winkler “is confronted with something that he feels is unreasonable.”

He also equated Winkler’s physical reaction during the struggle with his wife with a breakdown months earlier at an international business conference in Amsterdam.

Trial testimony revealed that Winkler was hospitalized under psychiatric care there after days without sleep after supervisors at Abbott Diabetes Care told him to redo what was to be the business presentation of his career.

Pointing to psychiatric records that Winkler was found in his hotel room, mute and unable to move, Lossy said the executive had a breakdown that was provoked by “outrage and anger about not being allowed his time in the limelight” by delivering his planned presentation.

Prosecution witnesses, including Rachel Winkler’s friends and an extramarital lover, testified that Rachel Winkler reported that her husband told her he was faking the breakdown in Amsterdam because he was angry at his company and wanted to defraud Abbott in a lawsuit.

Earlier Wednesday, Winkler finished his third day of testimony. He faced questions from both the prosecution and defense on why he waited six hours to call an attorney friend to notify authorities about the death of Rachel Winkler, the former manager of the Cameron Airpark.

“It took me a while to process what had just happened,” Winkler testified. “This was a violent altercation with someone who I had loved, and the children were obviously going to be forever impacted by this. It was just a lot to process.”

He also testified that he used products – including cleansers, rubber gloves, a scrub brush and paper towels – to try to clean up the bloody scene around Rachel’s body. He said he then burned the materials in the fireplace. But he claimed he wasn’t trying to “manipulate the crime scene.”

He said he was cleaning up so his three small children could say goodbye to their mother.

“The focus became what considerations should I take for them (the children) and their well-being,” Winkler said of his thinking at the time. “Should they have one last chance to see their mom? That was my thinking.”

He ended up taking the children to a neighbors’ house instead – not to view the body of their deceased mother.

Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

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