Dozens of friends and relatives crowded into a Las Vegas courtroom Tuesday as a Henderson psychologist was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison for killing his wife in 2015.
Among those who testified was Natalie Tyrrell, chief North Las Vegas justice of the peace and the best friend of victim Susan Winters, a 48-year-old attorney who also worked as a part-time judge in North Las Vegas.
“This case is not just a tragedy,” Tyrrell said. “This case is the ruination of a family.”
In January, Gregory “Brent” Dennis, 59, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter through what is known as an Alford plea, meaning he only admitted that prosecutors had enough evidence to prove his guilt. Defense lawyers previously had indicated they were prepared to take the case to trial, but it was delayed in September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dennis had a local practice, Boulder City Mental Health Clinic, that was part of the investigation.
District Judge Michelle Leavitt sentenced Dennis to between three and 10 years in prison.
The case has split the Winters and Dennis families. Dennis and the couple’s daughters say Winters died by suicide, while the woman’s parents maintain that she was killed.
Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo said Tuesday that the daughters, who were teenagers when their mother died, did not want any restitution payments from their father, with whom they live.
During the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Richard Schonfeld read from a statement written by the daughters: “The past seven years have only confirmed our love and support for our dad; despite the hardships, our bond is stronger than ever.”
Reading from a statement Dennis had written, Schonfeld said Dennis accepted the plea bargain to prevent his family from having to “undergo the stresses of a trial.”
‘Highly complex’ case
Winters was found dead in the couple’s home in January 2015. Her death initially was ruled a suicide, but Dennis was arrested on a murder charge in February 2017.
During a court hearing in January, DiGiacomo said the case was “highly complex with a lot of circumstantial pieces of evidence.”
About two months after Dennis’ arrest, and following Las Vegas Review-Journal articles that raised questions about how Winters died, the Clark County coroner’s office changed the manner of death to “undetermined,” which indicated that investigators could not determine if it was a suicide or homicide.
The coroner’s office previously had concluded that Winters died by suicide, based mainly on information Dennis provided, after she had consumed a lethal amount of prescription painkillers and antifreeze. Investigators later determined that Dennis had lied to police about his wife’s death and had a financial motive to kill her, according to his arrest report.
Dennis was dealing with a cocaine addiction and would have inherited about $2 million, including a $1 million life insurance policy upon his wife’s death, prosecutors have said. Dennis also had conducted internet searches to find out how long it would take ethylene glycol, used in antifreeze, to kill a person.
After Winters had taken the opioid pills, Dennis “waited for her to stop breathing” before calling 911, prosecutors have said. He also issued a do-not-resuscitate order for her at the hospital.
Prosecutors also have said that Dennis took money from his wife’s bank account before her death and later deposited a $180,000 check into his own account.
‘Her own person’
Winters’ friends and family described her Tuesday as a happy and intelligent woman. She grew up in Oklahoma and was a prolific athlete in school, playing softball and basketball and competing in track.
“Susan was her own person from a very early age,” said her mother, Avis Winters.
She graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s law school in 1990. Tyrrell said she met Winters after both moved to Las Vegas in 1991, and they passed the state bar exam together to begin working as attorneys.
Susan Winters was involved in her daughters’ lives and athletic pursuits, Avis Winters said. At the time of her death, Susan Winters was planning another vacation with her mother and daughters.
“Losing my daughter has created a void in my heart that will never be filled,” Avis Winters said. “I miss her every single day.”
After Leavitt imposed the sentence, Dennis was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs to cries of “we love you” from his family.
Susan Winters’ aunt, Helen Biddy, told the judge that her close-knit extended family is now estranged from the woman’s daughters, who were named after their maternal grandparents.
“Nothing will erase the memory of what happened to Susan, but hopefully after today we can begin the healing process,” Biddy said.