Brandon L. VanWinkle’s attack of a child abuser in a courtroom jury box amounted to “vigilante justice,” a prosecutor said Tuesday.
VanWinkle watched the man get five days in jail for assaulting a toddler, and then he reacted, Deputy Prosecutor Brendan Siefken said in his opening statement at VanWinkle’s trial.
After listening to all of the evidence, “there’s going to be no question” for jurors that VanWinkle is guilty of punching Kyle R. Welch on Dec. 17, said Siefken.
But attorney Karla Kane Hudson asked jurors to put themselves in VanWinkle’s shoes.
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He was a victim of child abuse and he reacted when he heard Welch was getting just five days for bruises that nearly covered a 3-year-old victim from head to toe and took 11 days to heal, she said.
The state must prove that VanWinkle intentionally assaulted Welch, but Kane Hudson told the jury the testimony will show it was more like an “involuntary action” because of a psychological disorder.
The defense is claiming VanWinkle had a diminished capacity.
“I ask you to walk in the shoes of Mr. VanWinkle — what he felt, what he experienced, what he saw as a child and how that molded him into the person he is today,” Kane Hudson said.
I ask you to walk in the shoes of Mr. VanWinkle — what he felt, what he experienced, what he saw as a child and how that molded him into the person he is today.
Karla Kane Hudson, defense attorney
VanWinkle, 37, is on trial in Benton County Superior Court for one count of third-degree assault.
He is charged under a statute that elevates the crime to a felony if it occurred in a courtroom during proceedings. The law also requires signs be posted at all public entrances to court facilities so people are aware of the possible enhanced penalties.
Kane Hudson said that the proper signs were not posted, at least not on the courtroom door through which inmates enter when brought from the county jail.
Siefken has argued that entrance is not for public use, so it does not fall under the law’s requirements.
VanWinkle was in custody at the time on a drug case that was later dismissed.
His trial started Monday with jury selection.
Judge George Fearing — a former Tri-City lawyer who’s been on the Washington Court of Appeals since 2013 — is presiding over VanWinkle’s current criminal matters because of a conflict with the Superior Court judges.
Ryan Swinburnson, a Kennewick lawyer with a Superior Court defense contract, testified that he was getting ready to call a case on the criminal docket that day when he suddenly saw VanWinkle on top of Welch in the jury box.
(VanWinkle) was yelling that this guy was harming children and that he was going to be the one who paid him back .... and when he got back to the pod (Welch) would get more.
Ryan Swinburnson, Kennewick lawyer
“(VanWinkle) was yelling that this guy was harming children and that he was going to be the one who paid him back ... and when he got back to the pod (Welch) would get more,” Swinburnson said.
VanWinkle’s mother, Diretha Hollenbaugh, briefly testified for the defense that she and her then-young son were continuously beaten by VanWinkle’s stepfather.
The defense also called Theasa Stanley of West Richland, whose daughter was abused by Welch.
Stanley said it was not her family that was cheering in court as VanWinkle allegedly assaulted Welch, but added that Welch was “the bad guy.”
“No, I’m not going to say I was happy that it happened,” she told jurors. “Do I think Mr. Welch deserved it? Yes.”
Testimony resumes Wednesday.