Horry Co. man's death sentence overturned

Louis M. Winkler, Jr. (Source: South Carolina Department of Corrections)
Louis M. Winkler, Jr. (Source: South Carolina Department of Corrections)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - An Horry County man sentenced to death for the brutal murder of his estranged wife has had his sentence overturned.

Solicitor Greg Hembree confirms Circuit Judge Ben Culbertson of Georgetown County overturned the death sentence of convicted murderer Louis M. Winkler, Jr., and converted the death sentence to life in prison.

Hembree explains that Culbertson's order, dated Aug. 15, agreed with Winkler's attorneys who allege that the trial judge improperly declined to answer a question posed by the jury, and had the jury received the information, they would not have sentence Winkler to death.

It was not noted specifically what the jury's question was to the trial judge.

On October 10, 2005 Winkler kidnapped and sexually assaulted his estranged wife, Rebecca Grainger Winkler and was arrested the following day and charged with assault and battery with intent to kill, criminal sexual conduct, and kidnapping, according to Hembree.

Despite strong objection from the state and Rebecca Winkler, Circuit Judge Thomas Russo released Winkler on bond in early 2006.

Only weeks after his release from jail, Winkler, while out on bond, kicked in the front door of Rebecca Winkler's home, made his way through the residence and fatally shot her at a close distance. Tragically, the murder occurred in front of the victim's 14-year-old son.

Winkler pistol whipped Rebecca Winkler's son and pointed the gun directly at him, but did not pull the trigger. The gunman then fled the home into a wooded area where he hid from Horry County Police for two weeks.

An Horry County jury convicted Winkler of murder, first degree burglary, and aggravated assault on February 7, 2008. The jury sentenced Winkler to death for his crimes.

Winkler's conviction and sentence were appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court and more than two years after the original sentence, on August 16, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld Winkler's conviction and death sentence.

Now, nearly two years to the day of the Supreme Court upholding the death sentence in Winkler's case, Solicitor Hembree voices how Judge Culbertson "goes past ruling on the law, and determines what the jury would have decided, then assumes the authority to impose a life sentence" on Winkler.

Solicitor Hembree prosecuted Winkler for the murder of his estranged wife and has requested that the South Carolina Attorney General appeal Judge Culbertson's decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

"Louis M. Winkler, Jr. is a monster that terrorizes and kills women and he deserves the death sentence that an Horry County jury imposed and that the Supreme Court affirmed," criticized Hembree. "The Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor's Office will continue to seek justice for Rebecca Winkler no matter what obstacle we face."

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