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Slain minister's wife seeks to exclude use of evidence from search of home

By Woody Baird
Associated Press Writer

SELMER, Tenn. — Lawyers for a small-town minister's wife argued in court Thursday that police illegally searched her family's residence after her husband was found shot to death on a bedroom floor.

Mary Winkler, 32, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying, and defense lawyers want potential prosecution evidence seized at the Church of Christ parsonage excluded from her trial.

The defense also wants to exclude potential evidence, including bank records, police were led to because of the residential search.

Prosecutors refuse to give a motive for the shooting, but Winkler told authorities she shot her 31-year-old husband, Matthew, after a night of arguing over finances and other family matters. Matthew Winkler was a 1993 Austin High School graduate and the son of a former minister at Beltline Church of Christ in Decatur.

Mary Winkler's lawyers say the family had fallen victim to a foreign check scam. They also imply their client was physically and emotionally abused by her husband.

Defense lawyer Steve Farese said Matthew Winkler had been pronounced dead by a physician and no one else was in danger when police searched the residence on March 22.

"Once that place was secure, they had to get a search warrant," Farese said at a hearing before Judge Weber McCraw.

Mary Winkler was taken into custody the day after the slaying in Orange Beach, where she was located with the couple's three young daughters.

Winkler, Farese and co-counsel Leslie Ballin refused comment as they arrived and left for the hearing at the Selmer courthouse, about 80 miles east of Memphis.

Prosecutor Walter Freeland said local police and agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conducted themselves properly at the Winkler residence.

The family's finances would have been investigated, he said, no matter what was turned up by the search.

"Just by going to the local bank, you could do it," Freeland said.

Prosecutors did not say what items taken from the residence might be used at trial, and defense lawyers were not specific about potential evidence that concerned them.

The shotgun believed used in the slaying was seized at the time of Mary Winkler's arrest in Orange Beach.

Weber said he would issue a written ruling on the defense request. He did not say when.

Winkler is free on bond while awaiting trial, for which no date has been set.

Matthew Winkler's body was found by members of the Fourth Street Church of Christ after the pastor and his family failed to show up for an evening service.

William Eason, a physician and church elder, was one of the four congregation members who went to the parsonage.

"Matthew was obviously dead," Eason said. "He was lying on his back beside the bed."

Chris Carpenter, a TBI investigator, said items seized from the residence included a copy of a $6,400 check from an undisclosed source in Canada made out to Mary Winkler.

Among other items, investigators also seized a folder of financial records and a box of blank checks, Carpenter said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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