Prosecutors say Illinois man staged killings of wife, driver

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

When Bootheel Area Rapid Transportation owner Ray Duffey first heard that one of his drivers in the Springfield, Ill., office had killed a passenger in her home before being shot by her husband, he flat refused to believe it.

"I never believed it that he did that," Duffey said of the 1995 incident. "He was just a nice man I hired up there to drive our vans. I had no problems with him, I had no complaints."

But police in Springfield believed it, closing the case in a matter of days.

Now, almost seven years after the murder, it may turn out that Duffey was right.

Police have now charged the husband, Mark Winger, with beating his wife to death with a hammer before luring the driver, Roger Harrington, into his Springfield home and then killing him, too.

The murder trial began Monday, and the first witness had not even been called before the jury heard his anguished cries for help as his wife and Harrington lay dying in his home.

"Please -- God -- my wife is bleeding ... I killed him. He beat my wife. I put a bullet in his head," Winger said on the tape of the 911 call he made that day in 1995. He said he had shot an intruder after finding the man beating his wife to death with a hammer.

Prosecutors say Winger was acting. They have charged him with luring Harrington, 27, to his home and shooting him after killing his wife, 31-year-old Donnah Winger.

Winger wanted to get out of his marriage and collect insurance money, prosecutors allege, so he concocted a story about Harrington stalking Donnah Winger after driving her on a shuttle bus from a St. Louis airport six days earlier.

"Everything the defendant told the police is a lie," Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt said in his opening statement.

"The defendant lied. The evidence will indicate that the defendant lured Roger Harrington to his house."

But defense attorney Thomas Breen, who said Winger "relives Aug. 29, 1995, again and again and again in his mind and heart," played the five-minute-long tape during his opening statement to rebut the notion Winger could have staged it.

Breen said he will present testimony that Harrington, who had a history of mental illness, told a psychiatrist that a spirit named "Dahm" -- whom he mentioned to Donnah Winger on the van ride -- "wanted him to cause pain to people. You will see pictures he drew of large people hurting little people."

Within three days of the killings, authorities cleared Winger, 39, a scientist with the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety. They said he had justifiably killed Harrington after coming up from the basement of his west-side Springfield home and finding Harrington beating his wife with a hammer she had left on the table.

But Winger filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Harrington's employer, Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based BART. Attorneys for BART's insurance company and Springfield police, who quietly reopened the case, hired a forensics expert who found blood-spatter patterns that suggested Winger beat his wife, then shot Harrington.

And Schmidt told jurors a woman who was having an affair with Winger at the time of the killings will testify that Winger asked her to help him murder his wife.

Winger is facing six counts of first-degree murder. He could be sentenced to life without possibility of parole if convicted.

Lawsuit dismissed

Duffey said the lawsuit was dismissed in 2000.

"There were always a lot of questions," said Duffey, who also testified at the trial Monday. "But when the police closed the case, there was nothing we could do about it."

Duffey said he was subpoenaed to testify about the fact that Winger had called him after the initial trip that Harrington had driven too fast and had said he could hear voices.

Duffey said he did not know Harrington had any mental illness problems and had run a police check that showed he had no convictions. Duffey said he feels somewhat vindicated.

"It's always been a sore spot for us," he said. "It scared people and it lost us some business. I'm just glad it's about over."

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