Longform

Can Accused Killer Seth Winder Stay Sane Long Enough to Stand Trial?

Dallas Detective Eddie Lopez pushed a photo across the table in a tiny interrogation room. "All I care about is finding this guy right there. It's that simple. I know you know where he's at."

A huge, manic grin spread across Seth Winder's face as he laughed nervously. It vanished as quickly as it appeared. "I don't know," he said, his voice trembling.

"I don't want to hear 'I don't know.' You do know. ... I only want to hear about one thing."

Lopez slammed his palm down on the photo. "Where's he at?"

Winder glanced at it. Lopez leaned in. "Where's he at?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said flatly.

Another detective, Dwayne Thompson, charged into the interrogation room. He stabbed the photo of the victim with his index finger. "You look at that. Look at it! Don't be scared to look at it! Look at it!"

"Where's he at?"

"I don't know."

"Did you kill him?"

"No."

"How'd you get that blood on your backpack?" Thompson asked, his voice rising again as he knelt, his face even with Winder's.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"There was blood on your backpack, the old backpack that you had. There was blood on it."

"There was blood in your camp," Lopez interjected.

"Blood in your camp," Thompson thundered, his voice ringing off the walls. "Did you cut him up? Did you cut him up, son?"

"No."

"You didn't cut him up? What'd you do with him? Look at it! It hurts, don't it? I can see the tears in your eyes." He held the photo close to Winder's face, placing his massive hand on his bony shoulder, shaking him gently. "We gotta bring him home, man. We gotta bring him home."

The interrogation had gone on like this for hours, ever since police had found 29-year-old Winder hiking down Hebron Parkway, sweating in the September heat. "I don't know" was his insistent refrain that day in 2008, when they asked over and over whether he had anything to do with the murder — a murder so brutal it stunned veteran detectives and terrified Dallas' gay community, so gruesome it would be featured on A&E's The First 48, whose cameras were rolling as the detectives tried to break Winder down.

It would be more than three years before the "I don't knows" gave way to a trial, during which the legal system would face a daunting Catch 22: Winder is a paranoid schizophrenic, and without antipsychotic medication he is too insane to be prosecuted. But with medication he becomes someone else entirely, capable even of calm rationality. He would have to be induced into a state of synthetic sanity before he could stand trial for a crime that he allegedly committed while unmedicated.

For now, though, he was just another uncooperative suspect.

"We need your help. Are you going to help us?" Thompson's index finger jackhammered the photo. "Look at him!"

With his slight build and his short, blond hair, Winder looked hunted, like a boy among men. He looked up at the detectives and murmured, "I don't remember."


At around 8 years old, Seth Winder insisted on clutching a baseball bat in bed. The devil was trying to break into his bedroom at night, he told his parents.

Back then it was easy to write his visions off as the product of an overactive imagination. He'd been born in Dallas in 1979, a son of divorce. His father worked construction and drank excessively. His mother worked in the accounting department of The Colony. He grew up in that suburb, a planned development that broke ground in 1972 and became an expanse of single-family homes, strip malls and steeples. He fished and golfed with his father, wrote poetry and drew intricate sketches, some of fantastical castles perched on mountaintops carved with winding roads.

He was a shy, withdrawn, even socially phobic child, but he was intelligent. His IQ was tested at 130. But he struggled to make connections. He completed A-plus homework and left it in his locker. He was an outsider who was often picked on, but his friends in ROTC said he was sensitive and thoughtful.

"For me to hear all these bad things about him, it's like, wow. That's not the person I know," says Stephanie Pittman, a friend of Winder's at The Colony High School. "He was always real calm, real mellow. We all knew he took medicine."

Like any suburb, The Colony exerted its own gravity. "If you get out you're very lucky, because there's a lot of drugs," she says.

Winder started drinking, smoking weed and experimenting with hallucinogens. His paranoia intensified and he struggled to carry on conversations. His eyes would become vacant, lost to some inchoate threat. At 16 he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

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Brantley Hargrove