"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
It was the 29th of August 1995. A Tuesday. Mark Winger called 911 at 4.27pm to report that a man "was killing" his wife. Mark told the Dispatcher that he shot the man. Mark lived in Springfield, Illinois, United States with his thirty one year old wife Donnah Winger.
When police arrived at the scene, they found Donnah in a critical state. She had been hit seven times in the head with a hammer. A man, who police identified as twenty seven year old Roger Harrington, was in a critical state on the ground beside Donnah. He had suffered two gunshot wounds to the head. They were both rushed to the hospital. Roger died shortly after arriving at the hospital, and Donnah died a few minutes later having never regained consciousness.
Police sealed off the house. There was no sign of forced entry. A visibly distressed Mark told police that he shot the man because he saw him attacking his wife. Mark told police that he was in the basement on the treadmill and heard noises upstairs so he went to take a look. He saw that their adopted baby Bailey was on the bed in the master bedroom. There was no sign of Donnah and when Mark heard more noises downstairs, he took his handgun from the nightstand in the bedroom and walked towards the dining room. According to Mark, he saw a man swinging a hammer at Donnah in the hallway. Mark shot the man and when the man tried to get up from the ground, Mark shot him a second time. Police found the hammer that was used to bludgeon Donnah with. It was covered in blood. The hammer belonged to Donnah and Mark. They found a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun in the house. That handgun belonged to Mark and he confirmed to police that that was what he used to shoot the man with. Mark asked police if they knew who the man who attacked his wife was. They didn't tell him the man's name and Mark asked them if it was a man named Roger and when they confirmed the man was Roger, Mark said:
"That's the man who has been harassing my wife this week."
According to Mark, Donnah went to visit her parents in Florida six days earlier and Donnah's mother dropped her off at the airport and hired a driver via a limousine company to pick her up in St. Louis, Missouri, and drive her back to Springfield. That driver was Roger. According to Mark, Donnah told him that Roger talked a lot during the two hour drive back to Springfield and she found him to be quite flirtatious as he told her that he liked older women and invited her to "sex parties." The conversation became more sinister when he told her that he kept hearing a voice in his head named Dahm. Dahm would tell him to hurt people. Mark told police:
"The guy scared her. She said that he was very frightening. He said things about killing people, setting car bombs, mutilating people."
Donnah was relieved when she got back to Springfield and told her family she was frightened and that the conversation was alarming and the driving erratic.
Mark told police that even though Donnah made it home safely, that wasn't the end of the matter. She received a number of strange phone calls and due to the timing of them, she believed Roger was the person making the calls. Police found a note describing Donnah's car ride in the house. Mark also told police that he reported the matter to the limousine company where Roger worked and he was suspended and that may have escalated matters.
Donnah and Mark Winger
Police found Roger's car parked outside the Winger house. It was facing the wrong direction and they found a number of weapons inside it such as a knife and a tire iron.
Police believed that Mark should not face any charges as he acted in self defense and the case was closed as they felt he had already suffered enough. Mark seemed completely devastated. He moved to Springfield with Donnah straight after their wedding for work and they were happy there. Donnah worked at Memorial Medical Center as an operating room technician and he worked as an engineer for the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety. Things weren't always easy for the couple. When Donnah discovered she couldn't get pregnant, she was distraught. That changed when a doctor who worked with Donnah told her that a teenager wanted to put her baby up for adoption and the doctor asked if Donnah would be interested. She was. Mark wanted the baby too and they welcomed the newborn Bailey into their home on the 1st of June 1995.
After Donnah's death, Mark still had Bailey, who was just a few months old, to care for so he remained in the same house but hired a nanny, Rebecca Simic, to help. Just a few months after moving in, Rebecca discovered she was pregnant with Mark's baby who they named Anna. Mark later married Rebecca and just over a year after Donnah's death, Mark sold the house and cut ties with Donnah's family. He moved out of town to a new house with Rebecca and the children. They went on to have another two children named Maggie and Ben.
Rebecca Simic and Mark Winger
In 1999, Donnah's close friend, DeAnn Schultz, told police that she had an affair with Mark when Donnah was still alive and there was something he said that still bothered her. According to DeAnn, Mark said:
"It would be easier for us to be together if Donnah just died."
"All you'd have to do is come in and find the body."
She also told them something which concerned them greatly. When Mark found out about Donnah's bad experience with the car ride back to Springfield, he told DeAnn that he had to get the driver in his house. That prompted police to look at Donnah's case again. But they discovered, much to their dismay, that some of the evidence was gone. Mark filed a civil lawsuit against BART Transportation as he wanted to hold that company accountable for Donnah's death due to Roger's actions. Roger was their employee at the time of Donnah's death and due to that, his Attorney asked for the evidence and files to be released to their care so they could use it for the civil suit. Despite that, police had access to some of the file and they looked at the photos that were taken on the day. There were photos of Donnah and Roger on the ground before they were taken to hospital. But the position of the bodies didn't seem to match with what Mark told them years earlier.
At the time, Mark told them that Roger was kneeling down right next to Donnah's head hitting her with the hammer when he saw him and that was when he shot him. According to Mark, he fell back and when he tried to get up, he shot him a second time. His feet should have been near Donnah's head and he should have been opposite her but according to the photos that were taken when police arrived, both Roger and Donnah were on the ground facing the same direction.
Police, for the first time, began to suspect that Mark may have been involved in his wife's murder. But that didn't explain why Roger was at their house that day. Around the same time, the civil suit that Mark was involved in provided a possible explanation. BART Transportation hired a blood spatter expert and they believed that the blood spatter showed that Mark killed both Donnah and Roger.
As police investigated further, they found more incriminating evidence. Roger's roommate, Susan Collins, told police that she heard Roger arrange to meet someone the day he was killed and police found a note written on a bank deposit slip inside his car. The note had Mark's name on it along with his address and a time. Susan told police that Roger told her he agreed to meet Mark to sort things out as Mark had complained to his boss about his driving and the discussion he had had with Donnah. He left the house at 3.30pm. Police believed that Mark asked him to meet him at his house at 4.30pm and the time written on the note in Roger's card was 4.30pm also.
Mark was arrested and charged with two counts of murder on the 23rd of August 2001.
It was the Prosecution case that Mark killed Donnah and Roger. It was their case that Mark wanted Donnah out of his life but didn't want to lose custody of their adopted baby Bailey so did not want to divorce her. It was their case that he saw an opportunity to do so when Mark heard about the trouble Donnah had with Roger. He thought it was the perfect opportunity to kill Donnah and frame an innocent man. The Prosecution believed that Mark contacted Roger, they had never met before that day, and asked him to meet him at the house and when he got there, he let him inside and shot him dead. The Court heard there was no sign of forced entry at the home. It was their case that Donnah was in the master bedroom at the time with Bailey and heard the gunshot and when she went downstairs, Mark beat her to death with a hammer and then called 911.
To prove that Mark lured Roger there, they told the Jury about the note found in Roger's car that had Mark's name and address on it. The Jury heard that Roger had weapons in his car but didn't bring them inside the house and instead attacked Donnah with her own hammer. They questioned why he would do that if he went there that day to attack Donnah.
The Court also heard about the account Mark gave to police about where Roger was when he shot him and they saw the photos that were taken that same day that suggested that that wasn't the case.
DeAnn testified and the Court heard about the statements she alleged Mark made that he wanted Donnah dead.
The Court heard that four days before the murders, on the 25th of August 1995, Mark asked his coworker, Candice Boldin, what would happen to his adopted daughter if Donnah died. Later that same day, Mark called the president of the transport company where Roger worked, Ray Duffy, and complained about Donnah's ride. A couple of days later, he called again to ask for the driver's full name and if he could discuss the matter directly with him.
The Court heard about the injuries that Donnah and Roger sustained. When police arrived at the house, they found Donnah lying face down on the floor and Roger was on his back. It was determined that Donnah died as a result of brain trauma due to multiple blunt force injuries to the head that were consistent with hammer strikes. Roger died from brain trauma due to gunshot wounds to the top, left side of his head and above his left eyebrow. His chest had contusions caused by hammer strikes.
The Defense claimed that the erratic decisions taken that day from the weapon used to how his car was parked indicated that Roger was mentally unwell and they argued that was evident from the car ride with Donnah. In relation to the position of the bodies and the photos, the Defense argued that while Donnah and Roger were critical when paramedics arrived, they weren't dead and the paramedics may have moved them when trying to save their lives. The paramedics denied moving them prior to the photos being taken and Mark didn't give testimony at his Trial.
In relation to DeAnn's testimony, the Defense argued that she was nothing more than a woman scorned. She had been having an affair with Mark, Mark admitted that, but as soon as Donnah died, he moved on with the nanny he hired and married her a very short time later. And the Defense argued that DeAnn was furious that she wasn't the person he chose to marry.
The Jury found Mark guilty of two counts of first degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In 2005, while still incarcerated for the first degree murder convictions, Mark was implicated in a murder-for-hire plot that was subsequently foiled. It was alleged that he tried to put a hit on DeAnn for testifying against him and on Jeffrey Gelman, a childhood friend, for not posting his million dollar bail. Nineteen pages of handwritten notes were found outlining what Mark wanted to happen to DeAnn. He wanted her to be kidnapped and forced to write down a statement saying that she lied about Mark and that she now believes he is an innocent man. The notes outlined that he wanted her to be killed after the statement was written. Mark told the Jury that the notes just outlined a fantasy that he never planned to carry out.
He was found guilty of solicitation of murder and sentenced to an additional 35 years in prison.
Donnah's mother Sara Jane and Donnah's stepfather Ira Drescher told CBS that they were overwhelmed by the evidence against Mark:
"And what's so hard to understand is the way he murdered Donnah was so vicious and so violent."
Mark maintains his innocence. DeAnn was granted immunity for her testimony and as a result of that, she faced no charges.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"My family and myself are good, decent and very honest people."
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