An Horry County man is no longer on death row after a state judge’s ruling last week.
Judge Ben Culbertson sided with Louis Winkler, Jr.’s attorneys, ruling on August 15 that a trial judge improperly refused to answer a question posed by the jury. During the 2008 trial, the jury wanted to know what would happen if they could not reach a verdict. The judge responded that the question was not appropriate. The jury eventually sentenced Winkler to death for raping and killing his estranged wife.
Culbertson said he believed that if the judge had answered the jury’s question, they would not have given the death sentence. He instead changed the sentence to life in prison.
Winkler was arrested on charges of kidnapping and sexually assaulted his estranged wife Rebecca Grainger in October 2005. Despite objection from the state, Winkler was given house arrest until his trial. He was also given permission to remove an electronic monitoring bracelet for two hours so he could look for a job. However, prosecutors say he instead went to Grainger’s home in March 2006 and fatally shot her.
The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the sentence in August 2010.
Judge Culbertson overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in a post-conviction relief proceeding, which 15th Circuit Solicitor Greg Hembree said is unusual. “It’s something I’ve never seen before,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “He said the jury would not have given the death sentence. How are you going to know what a jury’s going to do?”
Hembree, who prosecuted Winkler’s 2008 murder trial, said he has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to appeal the decision.