When Brandon L. VanWinkle punched a convicted child abuser in court, he suffered from mental conditions that impaired “his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct,” a judge said Wednesday.
Judge George Fearing explained that although VanWinkle’s conduct was not excused, it does justify a sentence below the standard range for the crime.
A two-year, two-month prison term ensures punishment that is proportionate to the offense and criminal history, Fearing said, while also promoting “respect for the law that is just.”
VanWinkle was convicted in March of third-degree assault by a Benton County Superior Court jury.
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Deputy Prosecutor Brendan Siefken asked the court to send VanWinkle to prison for four years and seven months, a sentence in the middle of the standard range considering VanWinkle’s lengthy felony record.
VanWinkle and his attorney, Karla Kane Hudson, said a one-year prison term was more appropriate since the defendant suffers from a depersonalization-derealization disorder and anti-social personality disorder. They attributed it to VanWinkle being severely beaten as a young boy, which led to a life of criminal conduct and substance abuse as a way to cope.
The jury rejected the defense argument of diminished capacity.
However, Fearing said for sentencing purposes he can rely on testimony of the defense medical expert, which was compelling and suggests a lighter sentence is appropriate given VanWinkle’s impairments.
Fearing mentioned a few recent cases across the country in which defendants received equal or less prison time even though their actions resulted in death. He also noted that Washington state has experienced tight budgets since 2009, and he couldn’t justify the taxpayer expense of housing VanWinkle for 4 1/2 years.
“I note that there was only minor injury, if any injury, to Mr. (Kyle) Welch as a result of the assault by Mr. VanWinkle,” Fearing said.
On Dec. 17, VanWinkle was in court awaiting his own case when Welch received a negotiated sentence of five days in jail for hitting a 3-year-old girl. The toddler — the daughter of Welch’s then-girlfriend — had multiple bruises, including a clear hand print, that took 11 days to completely heal.
VanWinkle told the court earlier this month that he felt like a balloon blowing up as he watched that sentencing, but added that he has no memory of punching Welch at least once while in the jury box.
VanWinkle was charged under 2013 state legislation that makes assault inside a courtroom a felony and calls for a significantly higher punishment.
Fearing said if the assault had been outside of a courtroom, VanWinkle would have been looking at a maximum term of one year in county jail with a gross misdemeanor conviction of fourth-degree assault.
So the 2-year, 2-month term is double the sentence for a simple assault, while also reflecting the Legislature’s desire to hold people accountable for inappropriate conduct in a courtroom, he said.
VanWinkle plans to appeal the conviction.
Fearing denied a request to put the sentence on hold in the meantime, but did impose an appeal bond of $40,000. He also suggested VanWinkle participate in substance abuse, mental health and anger management treatment in prison.
“I want to see you overcome and not continue to be back in court, Mr. VanWinkle,” he said.
VanWinkle has a separate Benton County case set for trial April 25. He is charged with intimidating a judge and felony harassment of a criminal justice participant.
Prosecutors allege that VanWinkle said he would chop Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom into pieces because the defendant disagreed with court rulings against him, and he made threats to his former attorney Alexandria Sheridan.
On Wednesday, Kane Hudson told the court that her client is seeking to represent himself. Shane Silverthorn of Ellensburg was appointed by the court after the case was filed.
VanWinkle served as his own attorney in 2012 when he was convicted of custodial assault for spitting in the face of a corrections officer.
A hearing is scheduled April 22 to address the request and the upcoming trial.