Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder by the book: Murder by Deception

The Trial Begins

Legal scholars debated the probability of winning a case against Winger with evidence that might be lacking a clear chain of custody, but the DA was confident the people would win. Seven women and five men were selected for the jury, and it was expected the trial would take about two weeks. Rumors published in the local paper suggested that Breen would attempt to use the trauma of Donnah Winger's death to explain discrepancies between the evidence and Winger's statements in 1995.

Judge Leo Zappa presided, while Sangamon County state's attorney John Schmidt, with two assistants, was the prosecutor. The case had become high profile, garnering attention from the national media, and both sides prepared to proceed with care. The prosecutors knew that because the case had been closed so quickly, with only three photos taken, they faced a battle persuading the jury the new story made more sense. They did have Winger's clothing from that day, as well as clothing from Donnah and Harrington. The Polaroid photos assisted them with the position of the bodies and the blood spatter evidence. Winger's mistress at the time, now identified as DeAnn Schultz, was expected to testify, but she apparently had a psychiatric history and could be portrayed by the defense as a vengeful woman retaliating for being dumped. The prosecution's case was anything but straightforward.

Sangamon County seal
Sangamon County seal

Among the first to testify were the police detectives who had found the flaws in Winger's story. The place where Harrington fell did not correspond to Winger's account, they testified, nor the fact that Winger called 911 twice and apparently shot Harrington the second time after he'd already been in the house for forty minutes. The neighbor who heard the single gunshot at 4:30 also testified, as did a man who had seen Harrington's car in front to the house at 3:50.

The police officer who had initially questioned Winger that day said Winger had had blood on his arms, hands, and neck. He was wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt, which supported his story that he had been working out. This officer testified that Winger had said he had kept his .45-caliber handgun in the nightstand of the master bedroom because of the strange calls they had received. Winger said that he saw Harrington bent over his wife, hitting her with the hammer, and had shot at him twice. Harrington then fell backward, blood spurting, and, Winger said, he had nearly run over him from his own momentum. Harrington had then raised his head, Winger said, so he shot him again. Winger then checked his baby and called 911, quite upset. He then rolled his wife over and held her.

But Harrington was still moaning, so, Winger said, he removed the hammer from the man's hand and beat him with it in the chest. When the police arrived, he seemed not to know the identity of his wife's attacker until they told him. Two shell casings were found in the dining room, but the prosecutor maintained that if Winger had fired from the distance he claimed one should have been in the hallway. In addition, Harrington's body in the photos was positioned opposite of the way it would have been if Winger's account were correct. It was also not clear why Donnah, who feared Harrington, would have let him into the house. That there were problems with Winger's account was an understatement.

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