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Murder, fatal DUI cases top El Dorado County's list of must-follow trials

By: Penne Usher, Telegraph Correspondent
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The following are updates on a few cases making their way through El Dorado County Superior Court.

Cameron Park murder

Todd Winkler, 45, of Cameron Park, is accused of the February 2012 murder of his wife Rachel in their Cameron Park Airpark home.

He stands accused of stabbing Rachel Winkler in the neck with a pair of scissors, fatally injuring her.

The couple’s three young children were home at the time of the slaying and are in the custody of Rachel’s father, Don Hatfield.

Winkler has pleaded not guilty to the charge and contends he acted in self-defense.

He remains in custody without bail.

A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 4, in El Dorado County Superior Court for further proceedings.

Fatal accident

Joshua McCavitt, 32, is being held at the El Dorado County Jail, suspected of second-degree murder.

He was reportedly driving a 1999 Chevy Silverado westbound on Pony Express Trail at 10:14 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2012, when he crossed the yellow line of a curve. His vehicle veered into the eastbound path of Denise Caldwell, 50, of Camino, driving a 2012 Subaru Legacy.

According to law enforcement officials, McCavitt was reportedly under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.

Both vehicles flipped onto their roofs. Caldwell was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office, McCavitt is scheduled for a jury trial Aug. 27.

Sheriff volunteer murder

Colleen Harris, 70, is accused of shooting and killing her husband in their Placerville home Jan. 6.

Law enforcement officials arrested Harris after finding Robert E. Harris, 72, dead at a home in the 3200 block of Wilderness Court.

“Upon their arrival, deputies met with Colleen Harris, and shortly thereafter, entered the home and located a deceased male,” according to an El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department press release. “The male victim appeared to have sustained a fatal gunshot wound.”

Robert had been an active volunteer member of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office volunteer program since 2007.

Harris was acquitted in 1986 of killing her then-husband James Batten.

She remains in custody at the El Dorado County Jail.

Harris’ attorney, David Weiner, said the case has been moved from the original judge hearing the case and will now be presented to Judge Daniel B. Proud in Dept. 2 July 29. “We are going to Dept. 2 to determine whether or not (Proud) is able to preside over the case,” Weiner said.

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IN THE KNOW

Following an arrest in a criminal, or civil, matter is the arraignment.

An arraignment is initial appearance before a judge at which time the charge is read to the defendant, and penalties explained.

The defendant is advised of his or her right to trial, and right to trial by jury if desired.

The right to counsel (legal representation) is explained, and the judge or magistrate appoints a lawyer if the defendant requests one and is found to be too poor to afford a private lawyer.

The defendant enters a plea. Assuming the defendant has pled not guilty, the judge or magistrate sets the amount of bail.

Preliminary hearing:

The second step is the preliminary hearing, at which:

The government must demonstrate to a judge or magistrate there is sufficient evidence, or probable cause, to believe the suspect committed the crime with which he or she is charged.

Defendants usually must be present at this hearing, although they do not commonly offer evidence in their defense.

If the court finds there is no probable cause, the matter is dismissed.

If the court finds there is probable cause, the matter is transferred to trial court. Many courts use the term bound over, such as “the defendant is bound over to the district or circuit court for trial.”

A pre-trial hearing is the next step in the process. The prosecution and the defense team use the pre-trial to file motions before a judge. These motions usually concern whether the court should suppress certain evidence, whether certain individuals can testify, or whether the judge should dismiss all charges for lack of evidence.

After all these preliminary stages, the defendant stands trial.

Trial:

Both sides offer opening statements first.

The prosecution presents its witnesses and evidence first. Then, the defense presents its witnesses and evidence. After the defense rests, the defense offers a closing argument, and then the prosecution offers the final closing argument. After closing arguments, the “trier of fact” (or finder of fact) deliberates and returns a verdict.

Sentencing:

Sentencing usually occurs immediately for infractions and misdemeanors.

For such minor infractions, penalties may include, but are not limited to, probation, fines and short-term incarceration.

Those found guilty of more serious crimes face long-term incarceration.

Before the judge announces the sentence, a defendant is entitled to the right to directly address the judge without the help of counsel.

During this direct address, the defendant may offer a personal explanation of any unknown facts, may ask for mercy, or may offer an apology for criminal behavior.

~ Information compiled through the American Bar Association and the California State Bar.