PONTIAC — Exactly two years ago Wednesday, Pontiac Correctional Center inmates Mark Winger and Terry Hubbell talked in the prison recreation yard about the plot Winger had concocted to have both a witness against him and a rich friend murdered. The conversation was recorded, and it was that conversation jurors considered key in convicting Winger, 44, of two counts of solicitation of murder in Livingston County.
By CHRIS DETTRO
PONTIAC — Exactly two years ago Wednesday, Pontiac Correctional Center inmates Mark Winger and Terry Hubbell talked in the prison recreation yard about the plot Winger had concocted to have both a witness against him and a rich friend murdered.
The conversation was recorded, and it was that conversation jurors considered key in convicting Winger, 44, of two counts of solicitation of murder in Livingston County.
Winger, already serving natural life in prison for the 1995 hammer slaying of his 31-year-old wife, Donnah Winger, and Roger Harrington, 27, an airport shuttle van driver with a history of mental problems he tried to frame for Donnah’s murder, faces up to an additional 60-year sentence when he next appears before Livingston County Chief Circuit Judge Harold Frobish on July 23.
Winger’s plan, which he detailed in a 19-page handwritten note the jury saw for the first time Wednesday, included hiring out the killings of the former DeAnn Schultz, his ex-girlfriend who testified against him in his murder trial; and childhood friend Jeffrey Gelman, a wealthy real estate developer living in Florida.
The plot involved having Hubbell, serving natural life for the 1983 murder of a 14-year-old girl in Olney, arrange for “hit men” to kidnap Gelman — who had apparently offended Winger when he wouldn’t post his million-dollar bail in the Sangamon County case — then obtain a large ransom in exchange for not harming his family. Gelman and his family were to be killed anyway, and the ransom money was to be used to pay the killer for the deaths of both Gelman and Schultz.
Hubbell contacted authorities when Winger kept encouraging the plot, and eventually wore a recording device on June 13, 2005, and turned over the 19 pages of notes Winger had given him.
Winger testified Tuesday that he never intended the plot, which he termed his “fantasies,” to be carried out.
The eight-woman, four-man jury began deliberations at 10:30 a.m. and returned with a guilty verdict after 3 1/2 hours, including lunch.
“They took the evidence for what it showed, and interpreted it the way it shouted,” said first assistant Livingston County state’s attorney Carey Luckman. “I think the length of time it took indicates they took the time to go through the evidence. When they came back into the courtroom, you saw 12 very certain people.”
The jury foreman, a teacher from Pontiac, said the one-hour June 13 recorded conversation between Winger and Hubbell was the single-most compelling piece of evidence. Two other women jurors said that, plus the content of the 19-page note that Winger did not dispute he wrote, convinced them of his guilt.
Luckman praised the work FBI special agent Peter Buckley and Illinois State Police special agent Casey Payne did investigating the case.
“It’s their work,” he said. “They make the evidence possible.”
Luckman argued in his closing that only Winger had anything to gain from the plot. He cited the carefully scripted letter Winger wrote that the “hit men” were supposed to force Schultz, who by then was DeAnn Anderson, to write recanting her testimony against Winger at his 2002 Sangamon County trial. Winger also wrote a script the fictitious killers were to force Schultz to record on tape, again saying that she lied about Winger’s involvement in the double-murder.
“He was going to create an opportunity for a new trial,” Luckman said.
“He’s an educated guy,” Luckman added of Winger, who has a physics degree from Virginia Military Institute and attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army. “How could he be so stupid as to fall into a trap set by somebody like Terry Hubbell?”
“Who’s the guy capable of putting all this together?” Luckman asked. “Is it Terry Hubbell, or is it the detail man?”
Livingston County public defender Randell Morgan argued that the evidence showed Hubbell wasn’t believable, and that he gained a transfer to a less-restrictive prison and was paid $3,250 for setting up Winger.
He, too, encouraged the jurors to read Winger’s 19-page note.
“He doesn’t try to hide it,” Morgan said. “He writes down in great detail his thoughts about DeAnn Anderson.”
“Is it a plot?” Morgan asked. “I think not. It’s just craziness. He has nothing else to do, and he thought he was allowed to fantasize.”
Luckman dismissed Winger’s claim that his plot was simply a fantasy.
“When they’re talking about fantasies (on the recording), they’re talking about Charlie’s Angels,” he said.
“DeAnn hurt the defendant in his first trial,” Luckman said. “He’s desperate, and he’s got 23 hours a day (in his cell) to dwell on it. That’s the reality.”
Luckman said that even though Winger is already serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, a conviction in the murder-for-hire case “at least tells them it won’t be overlooked.”
“The sentence in this case will be insurance for the people” in the event Winger should ever get a new trial in his Sangamon County murder case.
The state appellate court has already turned down his appeal, and the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review his case. He does have a hearing on post-conviction matters scheduled for later this month in Sangamon County Circuit Court.
Ira Drescher, Donnah Winger’s stepfather, was at the courthouse for the first two days of the trial and was allowed to listen to the defense’s case once his name was removed from its witness list.
He said he is “extremely pleased” with the Livingston County verdict.
Drescher said Winger put him on the list of potential witnesses so he wouldn’t be allowed in the courtroom “to revel in his case,” but never had any intention of calling him to the witness stand.
Winger’s written plan also involved killing Drescher, who sent his former son-in-law letters in prison, “if there was enough money left over.” No charges were filed in connection with that part of the note.
“Mark hates me, and that was why he wanted to ‘hit me’ as one of his targets due to my taunting letters to him, as I gently have reminded him of his ignorance and greed and deception,” Drescher said.
“I surely don’t want anyone to think that I had any intention to speak for the defense and Mark Winger, who took our beautiful Donnah away from us and deceived us for so many years,” he said. “I would be the last person to wish to do that.”
Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510 or email@example.com.