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Two years, nine months in prison for jail escapee
DARLINGTON - A Woodford man was sentenced March 6 in Lafayette County Circuit Court to two years and nine months in prison and six years on extended supervision after not returning to jail while on Huber work release, revoking his probation in previous cases.

Christopher D. Winchell, 23, pleaded guilty to escaping custody, a Class H felony. This conviction then revoked his probation on multiple convictions in prior cases, including convictions for cooking methamphetamine in Argyle and stealing expensive equipment from the Argyle-Adams Fire Department.

He was sentenced on the multiple cases as part of a plea agreement.

According to court records, on Sept. 13, Winchell left the Lafayette County Jail to go to his job at the AAM Casting foundry in Browntown, but his employer reported he never showed up. He didn't return to jail, either.

Winchell later told authorities that he stayed a few days with a friend before obtaining a job with a local company, Adam Grain Bins, that does subcontracting for building grain bins. The owner picked Winchell up in Monroe and drove him to Nebraska, where he built two grain bins before moving the operation to a farm near Onawa, Iowa.

On Sept. 29, Winchell was located in Monona County, Iowa. He was returned to the Lafayette County Jail on Oct. 12.

At the sentencing, Winchell's lawyer Michael Murphy said the joint recommendations of the plea agreement took into account everything the court should consider. He said there is need for punishment and confinement and that he hopes his client will get treatment for his substance abuse.

He added that Winchell was a young man with anxiety issues who didn't treat bond or probation very seriously but understands now what he faces.

"And now that the chickens have come home to roost and he is looking at a prison sentence, he is aware of that. He is looking forward to getting back home. I think this is an appropriate penalty," Murphy said.

Winchell was jailed and on probation for three separate cases stemming from incidents in 2016 when he escaped.

Winchell pleaded guilty last summer to theft of movable property with a value greater than $2,500, a Class I felony, and a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing. Court records indicate he and two others, Kassandra Paulson and Kole Figi, stole scrap metal from a family on Wisconsin 78 in Blanchardville and sold it for money.

He also pleaded guilty to felony charges of bail jumping, knowingly possessing methamphetamine waste and maintaining a drug-trafficking place. He and Paulson, his ex-girlfriend and co-defendant, were making methamphetamine on Milwaukee Street in Argyle.

Winchell was also convicted of stealing a gas/face mask breathing apparatus from the Argyle-Adams Fire Department in September 2016. A second stolen mask was located and an additional $8,480 of restitution was to be paid to the Argyle-Adams Fire Department, for a total of $16,560.

A revocation order from Winchell's probation agent chastised Winchell for his escape and asked the court to take action.

"He takes no responsibility for his situation, which he continues to blame on his association with Kassandra Paulson. He owes over $10,000 in restitution and had a perfect opportunity to begin to address this with a wage assignment but chose instead to walk away from the jail thereby turning his back on his responsibility. His escape undermined the very intention of placing him on supervision and shows a disregard for his probation status and his legal situation," the agent wrote.

"His decision to walk away from the jail has resulted in a new criminal felony-level charge of escape. The jail has responded by vacating his Huber privileges. To not revoke for this behavior would send a message to other inmates that an escape is not considered a serious violation and may therefore encourage others to do the same," the agent added.

Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson noted that the court had structured Winchell's previous sentence of probation specifically to help him with his drug addiction and rehabilitation. Jorgenson said the effects of methamphetamine addiction are great and hard to overcome.

"You made a series of really stupid mistakes and you compounded that by making a really, really dumb mistake by leaving (jail)," Jorgenson said.

When Jorgenson heard that Winchell hadn't returned from his Huber work release, he said he remembers wondering "what on earth was he thinking."

Jorgenson said that the aspects of what Winchell was doing by cooking meth in a small village like Argyle and exposing himself along with those around him was harmful and that the money he owed in restitution to the Argyle-Adams Fire Department was a significant amount of money for a volunteer fire department.

"All of this is concerning to me and speaks to the gravity of the offense. It was the court's hope that the structured period of probation would have provided protection of the public and rehabilitation, but unfortunately, in a baseball metaphor, we didn't get to first base because we didn't get past the initial incarceration," Jorgenson said.

When given the opportunity to speak to the court, Winchell said that being in jail allowed him to quit smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol and gave him plenty of time to think.

"I just want to get home and spend time with my family. I've done a lot of things in the past and that is done," Winchell said.