Don Hatfield took to the courtroom lectern Monday just 10 feet behind his daughter’s killer. His son-in-law, Todd Winkler, the former Air Force fighter pilot and wealthy pharmaceutical executive, turned back in his orange jail smock to meet his eye.
Winkler’s fate was already determined. He was about to be sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison for the brutal Feb. 27, 2012, murder of Hatfield’s daughter, Rachel Winkler, 37, with a pair of scissors in their upscale home near the Cameron Airpark.
Hatfield, who is raising his three grandchildren, Eva, 7, Ariel, 5, and Alex, 3, wanted Winkler, 47, to think about the motherless kids and the awful question their father left behind.
“Those beautiful children were orphaned in one cruel deed,” Hatfield said. “How will I ever explain, or even comment, on the question: ‘Why did Daddy kill Mommy?’”
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Winkler, 47, of Cameron Park, was found guilty of first-degree murder Oct. 22 after a sensational, four-week murder trial.
The case spun on tales of a suspicious death of Winkler’s first wife, Catherine Winkler, in a fiery 1999 car crash in Georgia for which Winkler received nearly $1.2 million in insurance settlements after being cleared of wrongdoing.
The trial was stirred by a narrative of an ongoing extramarital affair by Rachel Winkler – and on Todd Winkler’s insistence that he killed his wife in self-defense by plunging scissors into her neck during an argument over their divorce.
After the prosecutor focused on Rachel Winkler’s body, riddled with scissors wounds, the jury reached a fast conviction of first-degree murder, rejecting self-defense and lesser possible convictions, including voluntary manslaughter.
Hatfield, an acclaimed impressionist painter who lives in Napa, focused Monday on the baby, Alex, who was 7 months old when his mother was killed. Prosecutors said blood evidence indicated that Todd Winkler took Alex from Rachel Winkler’s arms as she cowered in the corner of a bedroom, put the infant in a crib and then finished killing his wife.
“Baby Alex to this day cannot tolerate sudden movements or loud noises,” Hatfield said.
He said Eva, the oldest child, has awoken at night, screaming, “Mommy, don’t leave me! Mommy, don’t leave me! Mommy, don’t leave me!”
Winkler mostly stared glumly at Hatfield as he spoke. His eyes occasionally moistened. A few times, he averted his eyes.
Hatfield seemed to look right through his son-in-law as he kept on with his wrenching script.
He eulogized Rachel as “a tremendous mother and my best friend.” He spoke of the former manager of the Cameron Airpark as a brilliant, soulful woman who was “the spiritual, psychological and social core of the Hatfield family.”
Hatfield then ripped a defense trial strategy for focusing on Winkler’s psychiatric problems and Rachel’s affair with a former Airpark maintenance worker, James White, 46. His voice rising with indignation, Hatfield spoke of a loving mother and daughter cruelly defamed as the defense attempted to turn her killer into the victim.
“I had to listen while Rachel was portrayed … as a sick, incompetent, wayward drunk who cared little for her children and was impossible to please,” Hatfield said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I fell into deep despair and depression, thinking only of the one juror who would believe this stuff. In the end, none of them did.”
Winkler spoke only briefly when his turn came, shortly before El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Melikian pronounced his sentence.
“I would just say, your honor, that I feel deep remorse for what’s happened, for Rachel’s family and for my family and, especially, for my children,” Winkler said.
“You took the life of Rachel Winkler … a wonderful daughter, a wonderful sister, a wonderful friend,” the judge said. “But in continued self-pity, you tried to set yourself up as the victim … I truly hope you realize not only what you did to Rachel but what you did to everyone who truly loved her.”
The judge also heard Monday from Rachel’s best friend of 30 years, Shannon Thurman, 39, of Reno, Nev. She sobbed throughout her five-page presentation on the searing emotional hardships she has endured since the loss of “a brilliant mind and a beautiful soul at the hands of a soulless human being.”
Hatfield also read a statement in court from his son, David, one of Rachel’s three surviving brothers.
David Hatfield, of San Diego, had testified during the trial of once seeing Winkler grab Rachel by the neck and throttle her violently to demonstrate his rage over getting a raw deal from a man who sold him an airplane. During closing arguments, as a prosecutor showed the grim physical evidence of the murder scene, he was the only friend or family member who didn’t turn away.
“I wanted to see what he did to her,” David Hatfield said in the statement. “Todd is a monster. He didn’t have any remorse for his actions. He glared at me in court as if I was on trial, not him.
“He dragged my family back from its darkest days into a courtroom, only to reveal his true self.”
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.