It's been more than three months since Seth Winder lost his tenuous grip on sanity in a Denton County courtroom, forcing Judge Bruce McFarling to declare a mistrial even as the prosecution prepared to wrap its case. Winder, a 32-year-old homeless man from The Colony, is accused of murdering and dismembering Richard Hernandez during a tryst in his Far North Dallas apartment -- the subject of a January cover story.
In a recent, quasi-lucid letter to McFarling, Winder proclaims his innocence. He always has. But the paranoid schizophrenic man believes the alleged victim is still alive. And that he has won his criminal case.
None of this bodes well for a prosecution eager to retry Winder.
Richard Hernandez's body was indeed never recovered. Detectives suspect Winder disposed of his remains in a nearby Dumpster. Dallas Police detectives picked up Winder's trail after he made purchases with Hernandez's debit card following his disappearance. A Lewisville patrolman spotted Winder walking along Hebron Parkway, his clothing spattered with Hernandez's blood.
He was initially deemed unfit to stand trial in April 2009, some six months after the arrest. Winder spent four months in a state hospital, where he was nursed back to a heavily medicated kind of sanity. But he wouldn't be tried for another two years. Meanwhile, he sat in isolation, and waited.
Winder has a history of writing bizarre letters to his family, his attorney and the judge. And as he saw his case hit delay after delay, the letters charted a seesawing path between lucidity and incoherence. In the months leading up to the trial, they were utterly divorced from reality.
It should have surprised no one who read them that this couldn't possibly end well. To this day, he's still in isolation, still waiting for a bed to open up at the state hospital. Given his most recent letter to McFarling, it doesn't appear that Winder has found any firmer footing.
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His February letter to McFarling does have its lucid moments. Winder has always maintained his innocence. Attorney Derek Adame says Dallas detectives ignored other leads as a crew from The First 48 shadowed them.
"I must say to you and to this court that I am in fact innocent of this supposed crime and I for one think Richard Hernandez is still alive. Not dead at all, but missing as there is no body to prove the allegation that he is dead. It isn't fair that I am the only suspect in his disappearance as there are in fact photos of other men in his apartment."
Then he veers off into some alternate reality: "...Since I have already won this case would like to ask you for a kind of pardon since they have dropped the bond and the pretrial as well as the court date."
Winder enlisted in the Army in 2005, but washed out quickly because of his mental illness. He's had a fixation on the military ever since. In letters to his family, he often claims he's going to join the Special Forces as soon as he gets out of jail. So it isn't surprising that he signs off as Sgt. Seth Winder.