A man who attacked a convicted child abuser in court wants the judge to give him a light sentence because he acted “in a moment of overwhelming passion.”
Brandon L. VanWinkle, 37, apologized to the victim, but added he’s only guilty of violating “the dignity of the court” since he did not injure him.
VanWinkle was convicted March 30 in Benton County Superior Court of third-degree assault.
He was set to be sentenced Wednesday, but Judge George Fearing said he needs time to consider the prosecutor’s recommendation of four years and eight months in prison. The defense asked for significantly less time based on VanWinkle’s diminished capacity.
VanWinkle says he was severely beaten as a young boy, which led to a life of abusing substances as a way to cope.
VanWinkle has a separate Benton County case scheduled for trial April 25 before Fearing.
Prosecutors allege he threatened to chop a Superior Court judge into pieces after learning he had to wear restraints to all future court hearings.
On Wednesday, prosecutors amended the charges to add felony harassment of a criminal justice participant to the rarely used charge of intimidating a judge.
VanWinkle allegedly made the threats in late December to his then-attorney Alexandria Sheridan, and made similar statements in an elevator as corrections officers were escorting him to court.
In the assault case, the Benton County inmate said he felt like a balloon blowing up as he sat in the jury box Dec. 17 and watched another inmate get five days in jail for abusing a 3-year-old girl.
VanWinkle claims that triggered the pain of his own abuse and caused him to have no memory of punching the man at least once in the upper body.
I didn’t know what I was going through at the time of the assault and, now that I put it all together, it just totally makes sense where I was coming from. I feel like I’m getting punished for when I was abused as a child.
Brandon VanWinkle, defendant
He said he was not in his right mind because why would he put himself in a situation where he’s facing a maximum five years for the assault when he was trying to get out of a methamphetamine possession charge.
VanWinkle said he’s since learned he suffers from a depersonalization-derealization disorder and thinks it is inhumane of the prosecutor to charge him for being beaten as a kid, he said.
“I didn’t know what I was going through at the time of the assault and, now that I put it all together, it just totally makes sense where I was coming from,” VanWinkle told the court. “I feel like I’m getting punished for when I was abused as a child. That’s just an opinion in my mind.”
VanWinkle had eight felony convictions and several misdemeanor assault convictions before this case, said Deputy Prosecutor Brendan Siefken.
He has shown an unwillingness to follow the law over nearly two decades, and the evidence in this case shows the courtroom attack was premeditated because VanWinkle knew he wouldn’t have the same opportunity back in the jail, Siefken said.
“It’s Mr. VanWinkle’s position that the sentence to Mr. Welch was very light compared to the horror to (the) victim. And I’m assuming Mr. VanWinkle, in his mind, compares the harm that he did to (the inmate) to what harm (the inmate) did to the child,” said Judge Fearing, who asked questions throughout the hearing.
Siefken replied that the other inmate’s sentence was based on the facts of his case, his criminal history and plea negotiations. He added that he understands Fearing’s concern about an apparent imbalance in VanWinkle’s sentence, but pointed out that VanWinkle took it upon himself to mete out punishment in the case.
It’s Mr. VanWinkle’s position that the sentence to Mr. Welch was very light compared to the horror to (the) victim. And I’m assuming Mr. VanWinkle, in his mind, compares the harm that he did to (the inmate) to what harm (the inmate) did to the child.
Judge George Fearing
Defense attorney Karla Kane Hudson argued that her client acted without intent and has a number of mental health issues, both of which warrant a sentence below the standard range.
VanWinkle’s mother, Diretha Hollenbaugh, told the court she agrees her son has a history of poor choices but said her hands are tied in getting him help because he is an adult.
“He just doesn’t see how much help he needs. I don’t think he functions in a reality that most of us do,” said a tearful Hollenbaugh.
“He believes he is Jesus Christ,” she said, before VanWinkle repeatedly told his mother to stop talking.
VanWinkle asked to have his handcuffs removed so he could do a numerology presentation for the court to help something about his childhood and who he is now. He gave the example that his name Brandon is made up of seven letters — possibly referring to the number seven’s significance in the Bible.
Fearing said numerology isn’t likely to sway him, but he has some empathy toward VanWinkle for his childhood and wonders if he can overcome that to become a functioning citizen of the community.
The judge asked if he could order VanWinkle to participate in programs while in the prison system, but was told state law just covers imposing treatment once out of custody and on supervision.
Fearing expects to rule within the next few weeks.