Seth Winder to undergo treatment to make him fit for trial; friend of victim Richard Hernandez not satisfied with decision
DENTON — A suspect accused of murdering and dismembering a gay Dallas man last year has been found incompetent to stand trial.
The finding means 29-year-old Seth Winder will be transferred from the Denton County jail to a state psychiatric facility, according to his defense attorney, Derek Adame. Winder will receive treatment in an effort to restore him to competency so he can stand trial in the murder of 38-year-old Richard Hernandez.
“We’re just kind of in a holding pattern until we figure out what’s going on with his treatment,” Adame said. “I have no idea how long that’s going to be.”
Hernandez, who lived in a portion of Far North Dallas that’s in Denton County, is presumed dead after his disappearance in early September 2008. Dallas police never located Hernandez’s remains, which they believe were deposited in a Dumpster and buried in a landfill.
They first identified Winder as a suspect when he allegedly used Hernandez’s debit card in the days after the murder. The case against Winder is expected to rely heavily on DNA evidence.
Police found a gruesome murder scene inside Hernandez’s apartment — including tissue from internal organs in the bathtub — and they later recovered blood-covered evidence at two campsites where Winder is believed to have stayed.
They also found pornographic images of Winder that were taken inside Hernandez’s apartment on a camera that was recovered at the home of Winder’s father.
Adame said he requested the psychiatric evaluation because he was concerned that Winder didn’t understand the charge against him and was unable to effectively communicate with his attorney about the case.
After the defense and prosecution agreed to accept a mental health expert’s findings, a Denton County District Court judge decided earlier this month that Winder is “incompetent with a probability of recovery,” according to online court records.
The Denton County District Attorney’s Office didn’t return multiple phone calls seeking comment about the case, which recently was the subject of an episode of “The First 48,” a real crime TV show on A&E.
Winder’s psychiatric evaluation is sealed, but Winder’s father said this week he believes his son suffers from schizophrenia.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Rodney Winder said of the court’s finding. “If he’d have gotten the help before, there might have been a better outcome. It’s just too little, too late.”
Rodney Winder said he tried unsuccessfully for years to convince authorities that his son needed help. Seth Winder had been discharged from the Army for mental health reasons and reportedly tried to strangle his mother in 2005.
He also had a fascination with knives, and his strange behavior included chopping up snakes and scattering the pieces in his father’s yard.
“With each year that passed, he would become worse and worse,” said Rodney Winder. “He’s not faking it. He’s bona fide.”
Hernandez’s longtime friend, Rudy Araiza, disagreed.
“I honestly believe that he knew what he was doing, and now this is his way of not paying for his actions or serving time,” Araiza said. “This guy’s just buying himself some time.”
Seth Winder initially was charged with capital murder, which is punishable by death. However, court records show that the charge has been reduced to first-degree murder, which is punishable by five to 99 years in prison.
Adame said he believes prosecutors reduced the charge because they don’t believe there’s sufficient evidence to prove that the murder was committed in the course of a robbery.
Rodney Winder and Araiza both said they hope Seth Winder spends the rest of his life behind bars.
“You can’t let him loose, because you don’t know what he’ll do,” Rodney Winder said. “That would be a travesty if they were to allow him to go free.”
Araiza, who’s gay, said the court’s finding that Winder is incompetent to stand trial would delay closure for Hernandez’s family and friends.
“If this guy was given a trial and found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, that would have closure for me,” Araiza said.
“I feel that peace would be to know that this psycho wouldn’t be out there attempting to hurt anyone else in the same manner that he did Richard.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 24, 2009.