Victim’s widow defends prosecution in church shooting

| November 16, 2009

EDWARDSVILLE – A former top prosecutor is offering his services free of charge to prosecute the accused killer of the Rev. Fred Winters, but the victim's widow is saying she would rather leave the matter to the current authorities.

Don Weber, a former state's attorney and assistant state's attorney in Madison County, has written letters to area newspapers criticizing the handling of the case against Terry J. Sedlacek by State's Attorney William Mudge.

"If the current state's attorney does not have the time or the stomach for this prosecution, I volunteer. If you can't find anyone on your current staff (you do have some good people) to vigorously prosecute this murderer, I will do it for free," Weber wrote in his letter.

Weber, a Republican, says Mudge, a Democrat, should be seeking the death penalty against Sedlacek, who is incarcerated in a mental facility, and should have been more aggressive in opposing a ruling that found the defendant unfit to stand trial.

Sedlacek, 27, of Troy, was charged with first-degree murder after witnesses said he entered the First Baptist Church of Maryville during a service on the morning of Sunday, March 8, and fatally shot Winters through the heart as he was preaching a sermon. After the gun apparently jammed, witnesses said Sedlacek then pulled out a knife, slashing his own throat and wounding two members of the congregation who helped subdue him.

Mudge is unlikely to accept Weber's offer and said he stands by a statement he made shortly after Sedlacek was ordered to a state mental health facility for treatment until he is able to help in his own defense.

Winters' widow, Cindy Winters, said in a formal statement that she supports the way Mudge has handled the case and wishes Weber would have kept his thoughts to himself.

She said his words can "inflict harm, turmoil and added stress on those grieving, such as my daughters, friends, neighbors and fellow church members.

"I have, from the very beginning of this case, been extremely impressed and fully satisfied with the decisions made by Bill Mudge and his staff," she said. "I know that they are capable of continuing to prosecute this case in a manner that will seek justice."

Weber said he is not buying the concept that Sedlacek is not in his right mind.

"If the state doesn't seek the death penalty for a man who murdered a pastor in cold blood with premeditation and malice aforethought in the pastor's own church in front of his congregation on Sunday, when is the death penalty ever appropriate?" he asked.

He said Mudge should be an advocate for the victim, leaving sympathy for the defendant to the defense lawyers.

"Sedlacek planned and premeditated this murder for days in advance," Weber said. Evidence of the planning was found in the words "death day" on Sedlacek's calendar. He planned "death day" for a Sunday when the pastor would be at the church, Weber said.

"He went to the church, not to the movies or a picnic, to shoot his victim with a gun. He chose a gun with bullets, not a banana or a coconut, as his weapon," Weber wrote.

Mudge did not respond directly to Weber's comments but relied on comments made shortly after a judge ruled Sedlacek unfit to stand trial.

A court-appointed psychologist, whom Weber termed an "egghead," reported that Sedlacek is schizophrenic and probably would not be able to understand the legal proceedings or assist in his own defense.

Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli issued the ruling after receiving the results of psychologist Robert Heilbronner's court-ordered psychiatric examination of Sedlacek.

Prosecutors and public defenders agreed that Heilbronner would have testified at trial that Sedlacek is a schizophrenic who likely wouldn't be able to give his attorneys accurate information or understand the legal process.

Sedlacek's lawyers, Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski and Assistant Public Defender Ron Slemer, both said in court filings that their client appears to be hallucinating and that they had difficulty communicating with him.

During an initial hearing, Sedlacek interrupted the proceedings and tried to plead guilty, even after Slemer already pleaded him not guilty. Rekowski said at the time there were "mental health issues" to be investigated.

Weber said he is familiar with many cases in which defendants faked mental illness as a defense. He said Mudge should have called a prosecution expert to put the court-appointed psychologist to the test. He said Mudge failed in his duty as an advocate for the victim.

Cindy Winters said she hopes that the death of her husband can bring about love, concern and compassion.

"It is my hope that we each find a way, with God's help, to bring beauty, life and unity out of the storms we face," she said.

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Category: Church Security

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