Woman's killer knew her, sergeant tells jury


By NATHANIEL JONES
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FORT WORTH -- Deborah Houchin's killer was no stranger, Texas Rangers Sgt. Tracy Murphree told a jury Wednesday during the second day of testimony in the trial of a licensed psychologist accused of killing an Arlington woman.

Murphree said there were no obvious signs of a break-in at Houchin's north Arlington home the July 2005 night she was shot three times.

"The person either lived in the house, had a key or the house was unlocked," Murphree told jurors. "Nothing was missing from the house. There was an expensive ring still on the body."

Houchin, a 56-year-old marriage counselor, was divorced with no children and lived alone. Her body was found smoldering on a tarp behind a mechanic's shop in rural Cooke County July 22, 2005.

Prosecutors say her estranged boyfriend Lester Winningham, 59, killed her because she asked him to sign a prenuptial agreement when the two were briefly engaged.

Houchin and Winningham quarreled just before her death, according to testimony.

Winningham faces a murder charge in Houchin's death in District Judge Mollee Westfall's 371st District Court. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Murphree said in the days after finding Houchin's body in Cooke County, he searched her home and found evidence that the killer took time to dispose of the body. Police found a receipt showing that Winningham had bought a blue tarp and rope from an Arlington Academy Sports store, prosecutors have said.

"A stranger isn't going to risk dragging a body in a car with the possibility of being pulled over," Murphree said. "There would be no reason for a stranger to burn the body when there's no connection to the person."

Murphree also found a blood-stained bullet and other drops of blood inside Houchin's home. He said he also saw bleach spots on the carpeted stairs leading to upstairs bedrooms, which indicated someone tried to clean up something possibly blood.

"A stranger wouldn't need to clean up," he said. “They're trying to get out of there.”

Testimony continues this afternoon.

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