Saturday, April 14, 2007
Wife Murders Her Minister Husband
Murder trial begins for minister's wife
Mary Winkler's husband, a Church of Christ preacher, was found with a fatal shotgun wound last spring in Tennessee.
By Jenny Jarvie
Times Staff Writer
April 13, 2007
SELMER, TENN. — Why did the preacher's wife allegedly kill her husband in their church parsonage?
That question has perplexed residents of this small western Tennessee town ever since Mary Winkler was charged last year with fatally shooting her husband, Matthew, with a 12-gauge shotgun. On Thursday, as her first-degree murder trial got underway, attorneys presented two starkly different answers.
Prosecutors said Mary Winkler calmly planned her husband's murder, fearing he would soon find out she had deposited counterfeit checks from a "Nigerian scam" into their joint bank accounts.
Defense attorneys portrayed Winkler, 33, as a long-suffering victim of emotional and physical abuse who had tried to cover bruises with make-up and visited her doctor with a "severely swollen jaw."
The killing was an accident, the defense said. Winkler fired the gun while intending to provoke her husband to talk about an incident involving their 1-year-old daughter, Breanna.
"The morning he did what he did to Breanna, she was going to get his attention with the very thing he had always threatened her with: a shotgun," defense attorney Steven Farese said during opening statements in McNairy County Justice Center. He did not elaborate on the incident.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the shooting was a deliberate and premeditated act, motivated by Winkler's fear that her husband would find out the extent of their financial troubles.
"The house of cards was falling down," said Walt Freeland, assistant district attorney, explaining that the day before the shooting, Mary Winkler had received several phone calls from representatives of her local bank urging her to come in with her husband to discuss account "irregularities."
The defense countered that Matthew Winkler made all decisions regarding household administration, instructing his wife to write checks so his own credit rating would not be not tarnished.
Matthew Winkler, 31, a pulpit minister at Selmer's Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found fatally wounded from a single shotgun blast. Fired at close range while he lay in bed on the morning of March 22, 2006, the round drove 77 steel pellets into his back, fracturing his spine and perforating his ribs, left lung, diaphragm, stomach and spleen.
His wife was arrested one day later in Orange Beach, Ala., with their three daughters.
For more than a year, this Bible Belt community of 4,500 has speculated about Mary Winkler's motives. By all accounts, she was the model minister's wife: quiet and meek, happily married, a devoted mother.
"Matthew and Mary Winkler had what appeared to everyone who observed them, those on the outside, to have had a marriage made in heaven," Farese said. "But behind closed doors it was a living hell."
Matthew Winkler's grandmother and brothers shook their heads as Farese described him as a domineering leader of the household, destroying objects that his wife loved, isolating her from her family, telling her she could not eat lunch because she was too fat.
"She had to be perfect to be the preacher's wife," Farese said.
Mary Winkler, dressed demurely in a navy suit with a small cross around her neck, raised a crumpled tissue to her nose as Farese outlined the difficulties of her marriage.
After opening statements, Matthew Winkler's father, Dan Winkler, also a Church of Christ minister, testified that he talked to his daughter-in-law after her arrest. "I said, 'I am so sorry for all of this,' and I told her I wished I could take the handcuffs off and I could give her a big bear hug," he said.
But Mary, he said, never apologized to him. "She should have," he added.
Farese suggested that Dan Winkler, who now has custody of his three grandchildren and recently filed a $2-million wrongful-death lawsuit against Mary Winkler, had manipulated the three girls against their mother. Prosecutors expect to call the eldest daughter, who is 9, to testify about what she saw on the morning of the homicide.
Dan Winkler has refused to let his daughter-in-law see her children, Farese said.
"What's your personal feeling: Do you think Mary should see her children today?" Farese asked.
Dan Winkler stared into the distance for a few seconds, apparently struggling to formulate an answer, before Farese abruptly withdrew the question.
The trial is expected to take about two weeks. If convicted of first-degree murder, Mary Winkler could receive a life sentence. But the jury will also have the option of finding her guilty of a lesser charge.
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Interview with minister's wife played at trial
Mary Winkler sobbed and talked of reaching into a closet for a shotgun. She is charged in her husband's death.
By Jenny Jarvie
Times Staff Writer
April 14, 2007
SELMER, TENN. — Jurors in the trial of a minister's wife charged with first-degree murder heard a tape of her speaking in sobs during an interview with investigators the day after her husband's body was discovered in the parsonage.
"I didn't just get up and say, 'Hey, let's see how this thing works,' " said Mary Winkler, 33, apparently alluding to the shotgun used in the killing. "I was battling; I've been battling it not to do that forever. And I don't know why."
Winkler had recently been arrested at an Alabama resort about 340 miles from Selmer, the couple's western Tennessee hometown. She had been with their three young daughters.
An agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation was questioning her.
Winkler sobbed frequently in the recording. She said she reached up to get the shotgun from a closet and suggested she was in the bedroom, balancing on pillows on the floor, around the time of the shooting.
"It was not as loud as I thought it would be," she said.
But, as defense attorneys repeatedly pointed out, Winkler stopped short of saying she shot her husband, Matthew.
Many of her statements consisted of "um," "I don't know" and "uh-huh."
It was a "total blur," she said, when pressed to describe what happened immediately after the shooting.
Defense attorney Steven Farese suggested that Alabama agent Stan Stabler misled Winkler that her recorded statement would not be made public. He accused Stabler of pressing Winkler with increasingly loaded questions.
Farese also drew out the fact that Winkler did not verbally answer Stabler's repeated question of whether she shot her husband. "On the seminal issue in this case — whether Mary Winkler shot her husband — you say there was no verbal response?" Farese asked.
"With nodding, she affirmed to me," Stabler replied.
"Nodding?" said Farese theatrically. "Nodding?"
The defense, which is arguing that the shooting was accidental, suggested Winkler was tired and disoriented when she was interviewed. She paused for long periods of time, sobbed and asked for questions to be repeated.
"I just can't right now," she said when Stabler asked her to tell him what was troubling her. She said she was just not up to that.
Winkler suggested on the tape that the couple's domestic relationship had deteriorated after years of conflict, but she did not provide specifics.
She said repeatedly that she feared her husband's reputation would be smeared in newspapers and in court. Winkler, 31, was a minister at Selmer's 4th Street Church of Christ.
"There's no reason for him to have anything ugly because I have obviously done something very bad, so let me just, you know, be the, get the bad," she said.
Winkler took pains to speak well of her husband.
"He was a mighty fine person, and that's the thing," she said. "You just say, 'The lady was a moron.' " She added: "That's fine with me."
But she did reveal a few things about her husband.
"I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground," she said. "Just chewing, whatever."
Winkler also said her husband had threatened her physically, referring to an incident six years ago when they lived in Pegram, Tenn.
"He said something that really scared me," she said. "I don't know, something life-threatening." She didn't elaborate.
In another interview, with a special agent of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation named Chris Carpenter, Winkler talked of her husband's criticism of her, according to the interview summary Carpenter wrote. The interview wasn't taped.
Winkler said her husband criticized "the way I walked, what I ate, everything," according to the summary. She also mentioned financial pressures, which she described to Carpenter as "mostly my fault, bad bookkeeping."
"I was just tired of it," she was quoted as saying. "I guess I just got to a point and I snapped."
During cross-examination of Carpenter, defense attorney Leslin Ballin continued the argument that the state had insufficient evidence that Winkler deliberately shot her husband.
"You didn't write down that Mary pointed the shotgun at Matthew, did you?" Ballin asked. "You didn't write down that Mary intentionally pulled the trigger, did you?"
"She did not tell me she intentionally pulled the trigger," Carpenter replied.