Was it a cold act of murder ...or self-defence?
After a row with her husband Todd, Rachel Winkler, 37, was found dead, stabbed in the neck with a pair of scissors. Todd admitted he killed her, but claimed he’d acted in self-defence in the midst of a psychotic episode – but would the jury believe him?
To most people, Rachel and Todd Winkler seemed like a happily married couple. Todd was a former Air Force fighter pilot and wealthy pharmaceutical executive. They had three beautiful young children and they lived in an upmarket area of Northern California.
Neighbours described them as ‘the perfect family’. But, despite appearances, the couple’s marriage was crumbling.
Rachel had grown tired of her husband’s lavish lifestyle and reckless spending. Todd earned $250,000 (around £200,000) a year – but, despite his hefty pay packet, he was spending beyond his means.
There were monthly payments of thousands of dollars on a plane, on mortgage payments for the luxurious home in which they lived, plus more on a second mortgage.
Todd also had a long list of debts, and the truth was he was facing bankruptcy trying to keep up with it all. The money worries frequently caused arguments and there was a constant air of tension between the couple.
In fact, things were so bad that Rachel had started an affair with a man she worked with at the local airport. The pair had fallen in love, were planning to marry.
But first, Rachel needed to get a divorce from her husband.
When she broke the news to Todd, he didn’t take it very well. In fact, it seems he was shaken to the core.
Rachel told her lover that Todd was expressing ‘doomsday and dramatic’ emotions and ‘crying and pleading’ with her not to end their marriage. But Rachel’s mind was made up.
When Todd realised he couldn’t change it, he saw red. The couple got into an explosive argument on 27 February 2012.And the fight went on until the early hours of the morning, becoming more heated, and getting physical.
According to Todd, Rachel came at him with a pair of scissors. But he snatched them off her and plunged them into her neck while she clung to her youngest child, then just 7 months old, and begged for her life.
But rather than showing mercy, Todd snatched the baby from her, put him in his cot, and finished killing Rachel.
Towering over his wife and at over 16st, Todd stabbed Rachel again and again – and then proceeded to kick her, punch her and bite her all over her body, according to the prosecution.
Rachel bled to death in the family home, terrified.
When Todd was arrested, he didn’t waste any time confessing that he’d killed his wife.
But he claimed he’d acted in self-defence, telling police officers that it was a ‘kill or be killed kind of situation’.
In October 2014, the case went to trial – and Todd Winkler denied murder.
The defence’s case was that Todd had killed Rachel in self-defence after she came at him with the scissors, saying the encounter also triggered in him a psychotic episode.
His lawyer focused on Rachel’s infidelity and depicted her as a greedy, materialistic woman who was driven to asking for a divorce by a desire to get as much as she could in alimony payments.
The court was told Todd was a loving, caring family man who’d experienced personal problems during his time in the Air Force, and was emotionally unstable.
But the prosecution had explosive evidence of its own. It turned out Rachel had been Todd’s third wife… and not the first to meet a tragic end.
In 1999, Todd’s second wife Catherine had died in a fiery car accident, one from which Todd himself had managed to escape unharmed. He’d been investigated, but cleared of any involvement at the time and was able to collect $1.2million (nearly £1million) in a life-insurance payout.
In court, the Deputy District Attorney suggested Catherine’s death was a ‘staged accident’, claiming Todd had threatened Rachel with the same fate.
Rachel’s secret lover also came to court and testified that she’d been terrified of her husband, and had confided in him she feared she might not live to see her children grow up.
‘If anything happens to me, I want you to look at Todd,’ she’d told him.
The jury had heard both sides and it was now up to them to decide Todd Winkler’s fate. Was he a heartless killer who left his children without a mother and who deserved the maximum punishment? Or was Todd Winkler driven to his crime in self-defence and after falling victim to a psychotic episode?
Todd Winkler was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years.
During sentencing, the judge said, ‘you took the life of Rachel Winkler… a wonderful daughter, a wonderful sister, a wonderful friend,’ he said. ‘But in continued self-pity, you tried to set yourself up as the victim. I truly hope you realise not only what you did to Rachel but what you did to everyone who truly loved her.’
At the hearing, Rachel’s dad Don Hatfield, who’s raising her children, said, ‘Those beautiful children were orphaned in one cruel deed. How will I ever explain, or even comment, on the question, “Why did Daddy kill Mommy?’’’