A Lacey man who vowed that his conviction would be reversed and he would return to exact his own punishment on the Benton County judge, prosecutor and jail staff has lost his appeal.
Brandon Vanwinkle, who claimed during his 2012 case that he was Jesus Christ, argued that he was incompetent to stand trial and should not have been allowed to represent himself.
The state Court of Appeals disagreed, saying Judge Bruce Spanner did not abuse his discretion in finding that Vanwinkle understood the nature of the court proceedings and the charge against him.
Vanwinkle was serving out fines in the Benton County jail in July 2012 when he spat on the arm, face and head of Sgt. Dennis Schaefer, a corrections officer.
Vanwinkle threatened Schaefer after being told he was being moved to a new cell for damaging jail property and spitting and throwing urine on other inmates, according to court documents.
He said he was reading his Bible when the officers “came in to bombard me,” and that they were making up the assault.
He was charged in Benton County Superior Court with custodial assault and refused a court-appointed attorney, saying “I am going to do this myself. (Counsel) will just get in my way.”
He told the court that he had enough schooling “to beat this case,” that it was going to be real simple and that he had a lot of experience with the judicial system. Defense attorney Michelle Alexander served as standby counsel.
Three months later, Vanwinkle was convicted by a jury. He repeatedly interrupted the judge during the trial, with Spanner making six contempt findings but not ordering extra jail time.
When Vanwinkle again faced Spanner for sentencing, he asked to be considered for a residential Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative so he could get treatment and be there for his young daughter.
He called methamphetamine “the devil’s drug” and said he uses it as a tool to watch how people work, but it needs to be in a controlled environment.
Deputy Prosecutor Kristin McRoberts, in asking for a sentence at the top of the standard range, called Vanwinkle “a horrible candidate” for the alternative program and said he has the ability to control his behavior when he wants to.
McRoberts added that Vanwinkle had been a regular in the court system since 1993, with eight felony convictions on his criminal record.
After Spanner ordered him to serve three years and seven months in prison, Vanwinkle replied, “I’m going to sentence you soon in Jesus Christ’s court. You guys are going to be sentenced soon. That’s a promise on my daughter’s grave.”
Vanwinkle repeated that he’s “really Jesus Christ. You guys are going to see what I’m going to do and, because this is my world, I can do whatever I want.”
Vanwinkle is housed in the Clallam Bay Corrections Center on the Olympic Peninsula. He has an estimated earliest release date of June 15, according to a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court noted that a psychologist with Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake testified in a pretrial hearing that Vanwinkle had no mental disease or defect, but had antisocial personality disorder with narcissistic traits.
When Vanwinkle became agitated during trial, Spanner brought up the issue of competency, but the defendant declined, the opinion said. The appeals judges said the record shows Vanwinkle was active in the jury selection process, asked for certain statements to be suppressed under court rules and successfully argued for using impeachment evidence when cross-examining the victim.
“In view of this record, Mr. Vanwinkle fails to establish that he was not competent to stand trial,” the opinion said. “Although he made claims and statements during trial that can be described as bizarre and argumentative, he identifies nothing in the record that is inconsistent with a finding of competency.”