Mark Winger, (born November 26, 1962) a
former Springfield, Illinois nuclear power-plant technician, was
convicted in 2002 of murdering his wife, Donnah Winger, and Roger
Harrington (born 1967), in 1995. Winger married the former Donna
Drescher (born Donnah Brown in 1963) in 1988. Winger was an nuclear
plant engineer, his bride Donnah an operating room technician. He is a
first cousin of actor Debra Winger.
Synopsis of murders
Winger's wife Donnah had taken a 90-minute ride
home from St. Louis International airport after a trip from Florida to
visit her mother and stepfather with shuttle van driver Roger
Harrington on the early afternoon of August 23, 1995. The psychotic
driver had given her a "hard time" all during the ride, annoying her
by talking about getting high and having orgies in his home.
Some days later, Winger called 911 and reported
having shot Harrington to death, not knowing who he was, upon catching
him bludgeoning Donnah to death with a hammer. The case was declared
closed at first, but on closer examination it was discovered that the
husband appeared as the only possible culprit and that he had killed
Harrington before he murdered his wife, after luring him into
Police initially suspected that Harrington, who did
have a history of mental problems, had given Donnah Winger a harrowing
ride home from the St. Louis airport, and scared her and their child,
a 3-month old that the Wingers had adopted just a month and a half
earlier, to the point where she told her husband about the incident,
which was several days before her death, and that Harrington, who was
having trouble with his own wife at the time, had broke into the house
and beat her to death with a hammer. The Wingers' initially had
contacted the taxi shuttle service where Harrington was employed, and
complained about the ride from the airport.
Springfield Police Det. Doug Williamson, the
interviewing detetcive in Wingers initial questioning was at first
persuaded of Winger's innocence. But his partner, Det. Charlie Cox
said that he "became suspicious" when Winger kept showing up at the
police station. It reportedly had begun a few months after the murders
occurred when Winger came by to ask for his gun back. The two
detectives then began to have serious thoughts that Winger had
possibly committed the murders.
Detective Cox recalls:
“I released the gun back to Mark and we sat and
talked for about a half hour,” Cox says. "He was wanting to know how
the case was going. As far as I was concerned, he should have just
accepted it was closed.”
Although Winger would deny it, Cox also remembered
him dropping by a second time, to say he was getting remarried to his
daughter’s new nanny, whom he had hired just five months after Donnah
“He kept coming in. I kept feeling like he was
trying to find out if we were checking into anything,” says Cox. “I
went back to Doug and said, ‘Something’s wrong here. Big time."
Winger had reportedly told the Springfield Police
detectives that he ran up from the basement, grabbed a gun and shot
Harrington in defense, after he saw him over his dead wife, who was
lying on the living room floor. But police later developed evidence
that Harrington was set up as part of Winger's plan to murder his wife,
based on the positioning of the bodies the police discovered at the
crime scene; they didn't add up to WInger's account of a supposed
struggle with Harrington, as well as the evidence discoveries in
Harrington's car which pointed to a possible appointment for 4:30 PM
that afternoon with WInger and his wife.
Donna Winger/Roger Harrington Murder Trial
Up until the time that he was finally arraigned in
2001, life had gone on with Winger; by this time he had remarried,
marrying Rebecca Handity, the family nanny he had hired after the
death of Donna, and a "Trophy Shiksa", or a non-Jew; both Winger and
his late wife Donnah families were of a Jewish background. The new
couple added three more children, two which were adopted, to the new
family, which included the child Winger had adopted with first wife
At the start of the trial, all of the forensic
evidence, including DNA samples, and the video interviews by Winger
with the detectives assigned to the case was introduced; it also
introduced a post-it reminder note in Harrigton's car of the planned
meeting between the cab driver Harrington and the Wingers, and
dispatch documents for the airport shuttle service for whom Harrington
worked for and also recorded conversations between Winger and the
driver of the possible meeting later that afternoon on the day of the
murders, as well as, probably most damning for Winger, three polaroid
photo shots of the victims at the crime scene which disproved Winger's
testimony of a struggle between him and Harrington.
It also introduced the murder weapon, a gun
detectives had believed that Winger had used to shoot and kill
Harrington, and the hammer that Winger had alleged that Harrington had
used to bludgeon Donnah, but which the police had believed that Winger,
instead of Harrington, had used to kill his wife. The testimony from
acquaintances of the Wingers', in particular, one DeAnn Schultz, one
of Donnah's best friends, who would reveal that she had been having an
affair with Mark at the time of the murders. She said that Winger had
made what she thought were incriminating comments to her, and that
Winger wanted out of his marriage so badly that he even tried to
solicit her in on the murder plot beforehand. Schultz had also claimed
he made incriminating comments to her such as "it would be better if
On May 29. 2002, after three weeks of testimony and
13 hours of deliberation, a jury found Winger guilty of first-degree
murder in the beating death of his wife Donnah, and the fatal shooting
of Harrington. Winger was convicted and sentenced to life in prison
without parole for the murders. It had taken 6 and a half years for
the case to finally make it to trial.
Solicitation for murder trial (2007)
In 2006, Winger, then 48, was indicted for
attempting to hire a fellow prisoner to commit another murder for him.
Winger allegedly tried solicit a Pontiac prison inmate, Terry Hubbell,
then 44, to arrange the murders of Schultz, who was his girlfriend and
mistress at the time of his wife's and Harrington's death, and a
childhood friend, Jeffrey Gelman, a wealthy real estate developer
living in Florida at the time, and whom Winger also allegedly felt had
The plot originally involved having Hubbell, who
was at the time serving natural life for the 1983 murder of a 14-year-old
girl, Angel Greenwood, in the nearby town of Olney, arrange for the
hitmen to kidnap Gelman, who had allegedly offended Winger when he
wouldn't post his US$1,000,000 bail in the Sangamon County case, then
obtain a large ransom in exchange for not harming his family. As time
progressed, however, the ransom plot was changed to murder Gelman, and
Schultz, who wound up testifying against him in the murder for hire
trial. The ransom money was to supposedly be used to pay the killer
for the deaths of both Gelman and DeAnn Schultz.
The fallout of the plot resulted in a conviction in
June 2007 for solicitation to commit murder, as he was found guilty by
jury in the Livingston County, Illinois trial, and a 35-year sentence
on top of the life without parole sentence he received in the Sangamon
In the media
The CSI: NY episode "Open and Shut" is based
on the Winger case, but with the sexes of the victims reversed: the
wife kills the husband and frames his psychopathic driver. In December
2008, CBS News's 48 Hours program ran an update on the story of the
Winger murder case, which was also later aired on the cable WE tv
Channel's 48 Hours On We program.
Invitation To A Murder
By David Kohn - CBSNews.com
December 5, 2007
It seemed like an open-and-shut case. A
violent intruder beats a woman to death. He's caught in the act by the
woman's husband, who shoots the man in the head.
But over the years, two dramatically different
versions have emerged of how Donnah Winger died -- and only one can be
There's the story told by her husband, Mark Winger.
It's the account that police have, for the most part, accepted from
the start -- that Winger killed an intruder who was attacking his wife.
And then there's the other version that seems much
harder to believe -- that Winger had devised a complicated plot to
murder his wife and frame another officer. Critical to this case is
one police officer who had a hunch he couldn't let go.
Almost everyone who knew Mark and Donnah Winger
thought they were perfect together.
"They were absolutely an adorable, model couple,"
says Sarah Jane Drescher, Donnah's mother.
Both were respected and successful members of their
community. Mark was a nuclear engineer for the state of Illinois.
Donnah was an operating room technician.
The Wingers wanted to start a family. But there was
a problem. They learned Donnah could not bear children.
So when Donnah and Mark adopted a baby girl, Bailey,
in June 1995, they were elated. "My heart was just pounding, I just
couldn't believe it," says Winger.
But three months later, the good times ended
abruptly. It all began when Donnah returned from a visit to her mother
and stepfather in Florida.
Donnah and her baby arrived at the St. Louis
airport and boarded an airport van for the 90-minute ride home to
It was an unusual drive, with an unusual driver - a
man named Roger Harrington, who had been working for the van company
for six months.
Harrington was also speeding. "He was telling
Donnah that sometimes when he drives, this God-like character would
come to him and pull him out of his body and he would be flying above
the trees," Winger remembers.
She and Bailey made it home, but Donnah was rattled.
Mark Winger complained to Harrington's boss.
Less than a week later, Winger says, he was on his
treadmill in the basement when he heard a thump. He says he went
upstairs to investigate. Bailey, he says, was alone on his bed. And
there were strange sounds coming from the dining room. "I just grabbed
my gun and started going down the hall," says Winger.
When he came down the hallway, he said he saw his
wife on the floor in the dining room. There was a stranger over her,
bludgeoning her with a hammer. Winger shot the man in the head.
When police officers got there, they found two
people bleeding on the floor. There was blood on the furniture, on the
walls, even on the ceiling.
As paramedics went to work, Officer Dave Barringer
took three quick pictures with his Polaroid camera. It was the last
three pictures in his camera.
"I've been in crime scene work a long time and
there's been very few that I've had that was as severe and bloody as
this one was," says Det. Charlie Cox, who got right to work and
questioned Winger in the bedroom.
Winger told the detectives the hammer was his, left
out by Donnah as a reminder to hang a hat rack. He asked Cox a
question: Who was the man he had shot? Cox told him it was Roger
"He says, 'Oh my God, that's the guy that's been
harassing my wife and me,'" recalls Cox.
"I think I fell over on my side and just cried,"
says Winger, believing that he would be taken in for killing another
But Winger couldn't have been more wrong. The
police had all but cleared him. In fact, they didn't consider him a
killer, they considered him a victim.
"I said, 'You've killed the person who was killing
your wife,'" says Cox, who considered Winger a hero.
According to police reports, Winger said that
Donnah was on her knees with Harrington leaning over her, attacking
her with a hammer. Harrington looked up at him, and Winger shot him,
because he was about to hit her again. He told police that at that
point, Harrington fell off of Donnah and rolled back.
Cox's investigation of the crime scene backed up
Winger's story. What's more, Harrington had been a psychiatric patient,
with a history of delusions. Plus, Cox already knew him -- he once
broke up a fight between Harrington and his wife.
Harrington died shortly after arriving at the
hospital. Donnah died minutes later. She never regained consciousness.
Donnah's mother and stepfather, Sarah Jane and Ira
Drescher, were inconsolable when they heard about the murder. They
were shocked to hear that Donnah's ride from the airport had escalated
Donnah's family rushed to their son-in-law's side.
"We felt terrible for him. Look what he's lost.
He's lost his wife also. And then he had to turn around and shoot a
man," says Ira Drescher, Donnah's stepfather.
A day after the crime, the prosecutor announced
that Mark had acted in self-defense, and that no charges would be
filed against him.
The case was closed.
There was an outpouring of support for Mark in
Springfield. Almost everyone believed he was a good family man whose
life had been shattered by a madman.
But Roger Harrington's family wasn't buying the
story. Harrington's sister, Barbara Howell, pleaded with Det. Cox to
no avail. Harrington's mother, Helen, also felt the shame of a city
that believed she had raised a psychotic killer.
The Harringtons grieved quietly, believing they
were alone. But they didn't realize that Detective Doug Williamson was
also not convinced of Harrington's guilt.
"Roger Harrington was allowed into the house. There
was no forced entry. Somebody let him in," says Williamson. "Why would
Donnah leave her baby alone on her bed and open the door to Harrington,
a man she supposedly feared?"
Also, Harrington's car was parked right in front of
the Winger home, with a piece of paper on the front seat: It had Mark
Wingers name, his address and 4:30 p.m. written on it.
"[Mark] says he doesn't know Roger Harrington, has
never met him, and does not indicate an appointment, when I have
already seen the note which indicates an appointment," says Williamson.
Cox saw no reason to doubt Winger's story. But
Williamson wanted to investigate further. His bosses turned him down.
The case stayed closed, until a shocking revelation
Part 2: A Witness Comes Forward
By Mary Jayne McKay
Everyone in Springfield, Ill., knew Mark
Winger's story. An intruder named Roger Harrington bludgeoned his wife,
Donnah, to death. Mark had interrupted the attack and killed
Winger's story was heroic and heartbreaking, but
Det. Doug Williamson didn't believe it.
At first, Williamson couldn't even persuade his own
partner, Det. Charlie Cox, that Winger was a killer.
But Cox says he became suspicious when Winger kept
showing up at the police station.
It started a few months after the murder when
Winger came by to ask for his gun back.
"I released the gun back to Mark and we sat and
talked for about a half hour," Cox says. "He was wanting to know how
the case was going. As far as I was concerned, he should have just
accepted it was closed."
Winger denies it, but Cox remembers him dropping by
a second time, to say he was getting remarried to his daughter's new
nanny, whom he had hired just five months after Donnah died.
"He kept coming in. I kept feeling like he was
trying to find out if we were checking into anything," says Cox. "I
went back to Doug and said, 'Something's wrong here. Big time.'"
Cox was beginning to believe that his partner was
right all along. And now, he wanted the case reopened.
For three years, their bosses prevented them from
reopening the case. And during that time, Winger and his new wife,
Rebecca, adopted Bailey and had two other children.
Then DeAnn Schultz, Donnah's best friend, came
forward with new information.
For four years, Schultz had been keeping a secret
that was making her sick.
What she was finally ready to say would change
She told police she and Winger had been having an
affair that began a month before Donnah's death and continued for
several months after it. She also said Winger wanted out of his
marriage so badly he even had talked about killing Donnah.
"He mentioned that it would be - easier if - if
Donnah died," says Schultz.
She said that Winger suggested that she play a role
in the murder, and that he talked about the van driver, Roger
Winger admits having the affair but calls Schultz's
other allegations "a horrible, horrible lie."
"I was a good husband to Donnah," says Winger. "I
made a mistake, I'm human, it was stupid and it was wrong."
The case was finally reopened and detectives, going
through the files, found yet another surprise - three Polaroids taken
by Officer Barringer on the night of the murders, before Donnah Winger
and Roger Harrington were moved to the hospital.
The photos showed the placement of the bodies,
something that police say blew Winger's version of events out of the
"It was over," says Williamson. "Roger Harrington's
head and feet were in the opposite way of what Mark told us had
The three snapshots, which the detectives didn't
see during the original investigation, were now the centerpiece of the
How did that happen?
"Got overlooked," says Cox. "And in a case that was
closed as fast as this one was, it was never thought of again. This
thing was closed by the 10:30 news that night, for all practical
After making the painful admission that they had
botched the investigation in 1995, police set out to prove who the
real killer was.
Police believe Mark Winger began methodically
plotting the double murder immediately after Donnah's bizarre ride
with Harrington on the way home from St. Louis.
"He's the perfect guy to seize on, to make it look
like an intruder had come in and killed his wife," says Williamson.
In 2001, Winger was arrested and put in jail
awaiting trial. And the detective who once called Mark Winger a hero
was now intent on proving him a cold-blooded murderer - and
vindicating Roger Harrington.
"I hurt the Harrington family a lot," says Cox. "They
buried him as a murderer."
For years, Sarah Jane and Ira Drescher, Donnah's
parents, had accepted the awful fact that Donnah Winger was stalked
and killed by a madman named Roger Harrington.
Now, nearly seven years after Donnah's death,
they've come to Winger's trial, knowing that the evidence against him
is strong - but still clinging to the hope that something would
The prosecution team, led by John Schmidt, said
Winger lied from the beginning, even during his 911 call in which he
denied knowing who Harrington was.
Ray Duffy, owner of the airport van company,
testified that Winger called to complain about Harrington's behavior
during the ride and afterwards and "wanted to talk with the driver
direct." This was a crucial link for the prosecution.
Duffy said that was unusual: "Usually, when people
have a complaint, they just call the office," he said. He also
testified that Harrington was eager to work things out and told Duffy
to give Winger his phone number.
Police believe Winger planned for everything but
couldn't anticipate that Harrington would have in his car a note with
Mark Winger's name, his address, and 4:30 p.m. marked on it.
Williamson points out that Harrington also had in
his car a tire iron fashioned as a weapon. "If he was going to
bludgeon someone, he had a weapon in his car," the detective says. "Yet
he chose a weapon from inside the house that he would have no idea was
Untangling the evidence in the seven-year-old case
was a huge job for jurors, three of whom sat down to talk to 48
The defense told them that, unlike Winger, who was
a successful and respected member of the community, Harrington had a
troubled, violent past.
The defense also pointed out that at the time of
the murder in 1995, detectives had the Polaroids, the note in the car
-- in fact, they had all the same evidence that they now found so
incriminating against Winger.
Schultz, who was given immunity, provided the only
new evidence - testimony that Winger had talked about killing his wife.
But she had attempted suicide four times and had undergone
electroshock therapy - so the defense called her unreliable.
But the jurors, who heard nearly two weeks of
testimony, knew what was at stake.
By now, Winger and his new wife had four children,
But Harrington's family wanted justice.
Next, did the murder happen the way Mark Winger
said it did?
After nearly two weeks of testimony, three families
anxiously wait for jurors to decide Mark Winger's fate.
Did he kill Roger Harrington in self defense, as he
has said for seven years, or was Harrington an unlucky pawn in
Winger's plot to murder his wife, Donnah?
Donnah's mother and stepfather are now convinced
that Winger is a murderer.
However, Winger's mother, Sallie, and his family
are still convinced that he is innocent. "What reason would he have
for hurting Donnah?" says Sallie Winger.
After deliberating for 13 hours, the jury reaches
its verdict. Winger's parents, who had spent a small fortune defending
their son, were stunned by the verdict. Mark Winger was guilty.
Ultimately, the jurors say the case against Winger
was clear. They were convinced that Harrington did not just show up at
the Winger's house with murder on his mind.
"If you're going to go over to kill somebody," says
Karen, a juror, "you don't bring a pack of cigarettes and something to
drink. And just hope that the murder weapons going to be there."
And while the defense tried to play up Schultz's
past psychological problems, the jurors thought her troubles made her
more credible. "I think she was sincerely telling us the truth," says
Karen, another juror.
But jurors say the state's best evidence was the
first evidence police ever collected – the three Polaroids.
Mark Winger, who never took the stand at his trial,
was sentenced to life in prison. He now says the paramedics had moved
the bodies before the Polaroids were taken, something the paramedics
had denied at the trial.
Yet Winger still can't explain the note: "I can't
offer you any answers to why Roger Harrington had 4:30 written on a
When Winger was convicted, another man - Roger
Harrington – was exonerated, and this has given his family a measure
But knowing the truth is little comfort for
Donnah's parents, Sarah Jane and Ira Drescher. They are left with only
their memories of a happy daughter and happier times that ended
"I have no idea why he did it," says Donnah's
mother, Sarah Jane. "I will never understand why he did it. And I
think it's a question that will never be answered in my mind."
Since 48 Hours last reported this
story, an Illinois court rejected Mark Winger's appeal of his murder
conviction. He's serving his life sentence at the state penitentiary
in Pontiac, Ill.
Mark and Donnah's daughter, Bailey, now 9, is being
raised by Mark's second wife, Rebecca, who has now filed for divorce.