Criminal trial postponed for Lake Oswego murder suspect
It's been roughly two years since there were significant developments in the Lake Oswego murder case that left the community stunned in 2019.
Michael David Winchester was arrested for murder after he confessed to killing his wife Heidi, who was ill with terminal cancer, in their home in the River Run neighborhood in January 2019. It was the first homicide reported in Lake Oswego since 2016.
Winchester's original trial was set for April 2019 and was rescheduled multiple times. The new trial is set to begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14, in Clackamas County Circuit Court.
"Murder trials always get postponed," said Sarah Butler with the Clackamas County Records Department.
Butler said Winchester is currently out of custody and, for a period of time, was at the Oregon State Hospital. Butler added that the pandemic did affect the schedule for out-of-custody trials.
Court records also show the trial was postponed due to incomplete discovery, "particularly with respect to the collection of relevant and material records."
Winchester confessed to killing his wife while police investigated the reported homicide, and court documents detailed Winchester telling an officer that "I did it, I killed her, she had cancer. She's dead upstairs."
According to the affidavit, Winchester also left a note for his two sons in his office. In it, he described his wife's suffering from terminal cancer and his emotional state and said, "I could not (bear) to watch mom suffer anymore."
In a 2019 interview with Pamplin Media Group, Lake Oswego Police Lt. Darryl Wrisley said police were called to the Winchesters' home near the intersection of River Run Drive and Bass Lane shortly after 4 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2019. The couple's 18-year-old son told dispatchers that his father had killed his mother and then tried to commit suicide with a utility knife.
Police searched the house, according to Wrisley and the probable cause affidavit, and found 50-year-old Heidi Winchester dead in the home while Michael Winchester was in need of medical attention in the garage.
A small box cutter-style utility knife was found next to Heidi Winchester, police said.
Michael Winchester was taken to the hospital at Oregon Health & Science University, where he was held for observation and treatment of his injuries prior to his arrest upon release. An autopsy was performed on his wife and showed she died from sharp-force trauma. Police said there was no evidence of a break-in or that anyone else was involved in the killing.
Winchester was released on $250,000 bail by Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Douglas Van Dyk in June 2019, ahead of his youngest son Blake's graduation from Lakeridge High School.
According to court documents, in a May 29 hearing the court found that Winchester was "highly likely" to prevail on a defense of extreme emotional disturbance — Heidi Winchester had terminal cancer — which would reduce a charge of murder to first-degree manslaughter under Oregon law, one of the few instances where a person charged with murder in the state of Oregon can be considered for release.
Court documents prepared in April 2019 by Winchester's attorney, Benjamin Kim, also suggested the prevalence of undiagnosed mental disorders in both Winchester and his wife.
"The defense anticipates that the evidence will show that every person who spoke to Ms. Winchester heard Ms. Winchester speak of the severity of her physical and emotional pain, her desire to die and her wish that she could join her loved ones in heaven," Kim wrote in a memorandum in support of Winchester's bail release. "The people who knew Ms. Winchester were also aware of undiagnosed psychological issues, including the behavior consistent with a manic-depressive disorder."
Kim wrote that in December 2018, Michael Winchester was reported to have suffered from physical symptoms like migraine headaches, slurred speech and an inability to sleep or perform tasks that he used to easily perform.
About a year later, he was hospitalized due to his symptoms. He was released in five days, though he reported still experiencing symptoms.
"Although undiagnosed at the time, Mr. Winchester was likely suffering from a major depressive disorder," the document stated. "On Jan. 30, 2019, Mr. Winchester not only caused the death of Heidi Winchester, but also made repeated and credible attempts to commit suicide."
In a memorandum opposing Winchester's release, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote argued that the defense "failed to meet its burden" in proving Winchester suffered from extreme emotional disturbance.
"The State presented substantial evidence that there was nothing out of ordinary on the day the defendant intentionally killed Ms. Winchester," Foote wrote. "By all accounts, the defendant had been acting strangely for a month and half. There was no change in circumstance that would cause the defendant to be extremely (emotionally) disturbed."
Foote added that Winchester's release would potentially endanger the public.
"Under the circumstances, the state has serious concerns about the safety of the public, Mr. Winchester's children and the danger Mr. Winchester poses to himself if released," Foote wrote. "The state believes, and it appears the court has found, that the defendant has the capacity to experience stressful circumstances and act out violently against himself and others."
Van Dyke ultimately granted Winchester's bail as well as unsupervised contact with his children, and he remained out of custody following the graduation. In October 2020, the court ordered that Winchester "voluntarily submit to an ORS 161.315 examination through the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) at a date, time and location to be determined by the OSH Forensic Evaluation Service (FES)," court records stated. "Defendant shall remain out of custody pending completion of this evaluation."
The examination would include whether Winchester had a qualifying mental disorder at the time of the alleged murder as well as his intent or lack thereof. Records show there was a psychiatric evaluation from the Oregon State Hospital this past June, though the information is not public.
In January of this year Winchester, who was directed not to travel outside the Portland metro area, was granted the ability to travel to Yamhill County to "obtain medically necessary surgery," which was scheduled for Jan. 27, 2021. This likely impacted his trial date, which was scheduled for January 2021 and then rescheduled for Dec. 14.
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