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Potential jurors quizzed in trial for preacher's wife

SELMER, Tenn. (AP) — Defense attorneys for a preacher's wife accused of killing her husband questioned potential jurors Tuesday about whether they had ever been in abusive relationships and if they thought guns could accidentally discharge.

The line of questioning suggested that defense attorneys for Mary Winkler may try to argue during the first-degree murder trial that she had been abused and that the shooting was an accident.

"Does anyone disagree that firearms can be discharged accidentally, or unintentionally?" defense attorney Steve Farese asked. "Do you agree with me that it's not unusual for many women not to know how to load a firearm?"

Matthew Winkler, formerly of Decatur and a popular 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, was found fatally wounded from a shotgun blast in the church parsonage in March 2006.

His wife was arrested one day later some 340 miles away on the Alabama coast with their three young daughters.

Wearing a cross around her neck, Mary Winkler, 33, sat at a table Tuesday with her four lawyers in the small courtroom. The former substitute teacher watched the jury selection intently and took notes.

Defense attorney Leslie Ballin asked if jurors had been in or knew of someone in an abusive relationship, believed domestic abuse was a real problem and if they knew about the life of a preacher's wife.

"Do we all agree there are family secrets that just aren't talked about?" Ballin asked Tuesday. "Ministers' wives live a different kind of life, don't they? They don't really have anyone to talk to."

Both sides released their witness lists Tuesday. The prosecution has 14 people as potential witnesses, while the defense list had 43 names, including the sheriff who drove to Alabama after Mary Winkler's arrest and brought her back to Selmer, a small town 80 miles east of Memphis.

Police have said Winkler admitted killing her husband last year, saying she "snapped" over his constant criticism.

While her attorneys have never directly said she shot her husband, they have indicated their defense would be based on "how and why" the crime happened, rather than what happened, as Ballin told potential jurors.

Mary Winkler's father, Clark Freeman, has said his daughter might have been physically abused.

Matthew Winkler's parents now have custody of their three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 2, and they have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against their mother.

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

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