A Benton County inmate who threatened to “chop up” a judge while awaiting trial on separate charges of assaulting another prisoner was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison.
Brandon L. VanWinkle will serve the sentence at the same time with a separate two-year sentence for the assault charge. After the hearing, defense attorney Shane Silverthorn filed a notice of appeal for the conviction.
During Tuesday’s hearing, VanWinkle complained his comments were taken out of context. He expressed some regret for the episode and for the earlier assault on another inmate.
“If I could change that, I would because I would be free now,” he told the court.
VanWinkle was convicted Aug. 3 of threats direct at Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom to his public defense attorney when she visited him at the Benton County jail last December.
At the time, Attorney Alexandria Sheridan told VanWinkle that prosecutors wanted him to wear extra restraints during a court appearance in the assault case because of previous outbursts. The news angered VanWinkle.
He was subsequently tried and convicted of third-degree assault and then for making threats about the judge. They were his ninth and 10th felony convictions.
Judge George Fearing, a state Court of Appeals judge based in Spokane, presided of the case because other local judges said it could be a conflict of interest for them to hear a case involving another Tri-City judge.
Fearing declined VanWinkle’s request for a sentence of three years. VanWinkle and his attorney argued for the lesser sentence claiming he’d been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder stemming from some childhood abuse.
Instead, Fearing chose a sentence in the middle of the standard range of 77 months to 102 months. With good behavior and credit for time he’s spent in jail already, VanWinkle could be released in about four years.
VanWinkle was originally arrested in November 2015 on drug paraphernalia charges while he was being evicted from a house where he’d been hired to install drywall.
Those charges were eventually dropped, but while in custody, he assaulted another inmate. VanWinkle was sitting in a jury box while the other inmate was sentenced jail for abusing a 3-year-old girl.
A psychologist testified that Van Winkle’s own childhood abuse triggered the incident.
Fearing issued a below-standard sentence in that case but noted VanWinkle’s mental health issues were not raised in the second trial involving the threats.