Invitation To A Murder

A Husband Becomes a Hero for Trying to Stop his Wife's Murder - but Then the Twisted Plot Unravels

Produced by Gail Abbott Zimmerman and Douglas Longhini

This story was originally broadcast on Dec. 13, 2008.

Mark and Donnah Winger seemed to have it all - successful careers, a new adopted child, and a nice home in Springfield, Ill. But their seemingly peaceful and happy family life was shattered in August 1995 when Mark says he came upon a man beating his wife with a hammer. Mark shot the man, and investigators soon determined that he had acted in self-defense.

As correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, while the case seemed open and shut, after several years, it turned out to be anything but.

Almost everyone who knew Mark and Donnah Winger thought they were perfect together. They were both respected and successful members of their community.

Mark was a nuclear engineer for the state of Illinois, and Donnah an operating room technician. Both sets of in-laws were delighted when the couple married in 1989.

The Wingers were eager to start a family, but there was a problem: they learned Donnah could not bear children. So when Donnah and Mark adopted a baby girl in June 1995, they were elated.

Mark and Donnah doted on their daughter, and they showed her off to everyone, especially Donnah's best friend DeAnn Schultz. "Donnah was really special, very friendly, really exuberant, full of life," she remembers.

But just three months later the good times ended abruptly. It all began when Donnah returned from a visit to her mother Sara Jane and stepfather Ira in Florida.

Donnah and her baby arrived at the St. Louis airport and got into a shuttle van for the hour and a half ride back home to Springfield.

It was an unusual drive, with an unusual driver - a man named Roger Harrington, who had been working for the van company for six months. "The guy scared her. She said that he was very frightening," Mark recalls. "He said things about killing people, setting car bombs, mutilating people."

Harrington was also speeding. "He was telling Donnah that sometimes when he drives this God like character would come to him and pull him out of his body and he would be flying above the trees," Mark says.

She and the baby made it home, but Donnah was very rattled. Mark complained to Harrington' boss. "I blew up at him and told him about his van driver speeding with my wife and my baby, the inappropriate things he was saying," he remembers.

Then, less than a week after Donnah's wild ride, Winger says, he was on his treadmill in the basement when he heard a thump.

The baby, he says, was alone in the master bedroom, and there were strange sounds coming from the dining room. "Instantly, I knew that that wasn't right at all," Mark remembers. "I just grabbed my gun and started going down the hall."

Winger says when he came down the hallway, he saw one of the most horrifying things any husband could see: his wife was on the floor in the dining room, and there was a stranger over her bludgeoning her with a hammer.

And that's when Winger says he shot the man in the head. When police got to Wingers' house, the victims were in terrible shape but alive.

As paramedics went to work, Officer Dave Barringer got his Polaroid camera. "I thought that if we're gonna have pictures with - showing where the bodies were located, I'm gonna have to take these pictures now because they're gonna be gone within a matter of a few minutes," he remembers.

Within minutes, both Donnah and the man were rushed to the hospital, and Mark began telling police what happened that day.

Homicide Detective Charlie Cox knew that there was little hope that either Donnah or the man lying near her on the floor would survive their wounds.

Cox grabbed the man's ID from his wallet and then got right to work, questioning Mark Winger in the bedroom. "I was in shock. I was in shock the whole time they were questioning me. I did my best," Mark remembers.

"And he's more or less rocking back and forth as he's talking to us. And you could tell he's nervous and upset. So I'm trying to be as delicate as I can with my questions," Cox recalls.

Winger told the detectives the hammer was his, left out by Donnah as a reminder to hang a hat rack. And he had a question of his own: "He said, 'Who is that guy out there?' And he says, 'Is his name Roger?' At that point, I felt compelled to let him know the truth and I said, 'Yes, that's Roger Harrington,'" Cox says.

Harrington - the very same van driver who drove Donnah home from the airport six days earlier. Winger told Cox about that harrowing ride. He also told Cox about two anonymous phone calls that Winger believed were from Harrington.