Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder by the book: Murder by Deception

Two Verdicts

The jury deliberated about thirteen hours. After two days, they nearly hung, with several hold-outs, but decided to go home and sleep on it. After a few more hours, only one person still had doubts, but finally "all the little things" helped them arrive at a unanimous agreement: Winger was guilty of the premeditated murder of his wife and a stranger he'd set up as a fall guy. "The bodies just couldn't be where he said they were if he story was true," one juror told reporters at the State Journal-Register. Winger was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Both C.S.I.: New York and 48 Hours Investigates took on this bizarre tale, bringing it to a much wider national audience. Correspondent Richard Schlesinger interviewed several of the key witnesses, including Winger, and Springfield area newspapers published articles about the embarrassment of being on such public display. By now, Winger had a new flourish to offer: he now maintained that paramedics had moved Harrington's body, thus accounting for the difference between his version of events and the photographs. He continued to insist on the truth of his story.

Re-enactment of forensic examination of Harrington's mug
Re-enactment of forensic examination of Harrington's mug

In June 2005, in a bid to establish his innocence, Winger requested a post-conviction DNA analysis of the blood spots on Harrington's clothing and on other items. DNA testing had been requested by the prosecution in 2001 close to his trial date, so it had been limited. He felt certain that more testing would clear him. However, the state's attorney stated that at the time of the trial Winger had been able to test as much as he liked; he just had chosen not to. In addition, post-conviction DNA testing was for offenders looking for exonerations of such crimes as rape, not for speculative new theories. His request was denied.

Winger in police custody
Winger in police custody

Winger also appealed that his attorney had not properly represented him because he had not adequately cross-examined several witnesses. This, too, was rejected, as the appellate court found the cross-examination to be both competent and adequate.

Then during that same summer, shocking news came out that Winger had attempted to hire a hit man to kill DeAnn Schultz, as well as the wealthy acquaintance who had declined to post his bail in 2001. He had asked another inmate, Terry Hubbell, to find someone to do the job and had written nineteen rambling pages that detailed his bizarre plan. He was going to kidnap his now-wealthy childhood friend, Jeffrey Gelman, and extort money from him in exchange for not harming Gelman's wife and children. With the money, he would pay the hit man to force Schultz to recant her testimony and then kill her. He would also have the hit man kill Gelman and his family as payback for not helping him. Winger considered this plan his "get out of jail free" card. He wanted DeAnn's body buried thirty feet down.

Hubbell turned the letter over to prison authorities. In exchange for a transfer to a less restrictive prison, he agreed to wear a recording to device to get Winger to repeat it, for corroborating evidence. Winger talked with him for an hour, digging himself in even deeper.

When caught, Winger denied that he'd meant any of it. He called the plan his "fantasies" and joked that even intelligent people could be fooled. Nevertheless, he wound up in court for this episode in 2007, and in short order the jury found him guilty. The judge stated that the notes displayed the same cold-blooded, sociopathic mindset as the double homicide hadWinger had actually been diagnosed in prison with antisocial personality disorder. Winger got another thirty-five years added to his sentence.

The officer who had taken the crucial three photos says he now carries a camera with him to every scene, and Charlie Cox admitted he had made a mistake in the beginning of this case. "We learned never to close a case that fast; there's no rush to close any case."

Donnah's family established a fund in her memory for abused women in the hope it will help women escape bad situations before they're killed. The Harringtons found closure with the official and public recognition that their son was not a psychotic killer, and the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear Winger's appeal.

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