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Wife's fear led to shooting?
Mary Winkler was trying to protect child, defense says

By Beth Rucker
Associated Press Writer

SELMER, Tenn. — A preacher's wife accused of killing her husband with a shotgun blast had been depositing bad checks and feared he would find out, a prosecutor said as her murder trial opened Thursday.

The defense told jurors she killed her husband accidentally while trying to protect their child from him.

Mary Winkler, 33, only intended to hold her husband at gunpoint to force him to talk about his personal problems after a situation involving their 1-year-old daughter, Breanna, defense attorney Steve Farese said. The defense did not describe the situation.

"The morning he did what he did to Breanna, she was going to get his attention — with the very things he had always threatened her with," Farese said. He said Matthew Winkler had threatened his wife with a gun many times.

A prosecutor described former Decatur resident Matthew Winkler as a preacher, a good father and a man who trusted his wife. Even after she was arrested, Mary Winkler told police her husband was "a mighty fine person," Assistant District Attorney Walt Freeland said.

Check-kiting scheme

The prosecutor said bank managers were closing in on a check-kiting scheme that Mary Winkler wanted to conceal from her husband. He said Mary Winkler had become caught up in a swindle known as the "Nigerian scam," which promises riches to victims who send money to cover the processing expenses.

"This was beginning to catch up with Mary," Freeland said. "The house of cards she had set up was falling down."

Victim of abuse?

But the defense attorney said Mary Winkler handled the family finances only because she did everything her husband told her. She was abused verbally, emotionally and physically, Farese said.

"Matthew and Mary Winkler had what appeared to everyone — those on the outside — to have had a marriage made in heaven. But behind closed doors it was a living hell," he told the jury. "She lived a life where she walked on eggshells."

Farese said Mary Winkler did not know how to load or fire a shotgun, and that she was afraid he would grab it from her. But the prosecutor said an expert will testify that the shotgun could not be fired accidentally.

The 31-year-old minister was found fatally wounded at the parsonage of his Fourth Street Church of Christ in March 2006. His 33-year-old wife was arrested a day later some 340 miles away on the Alabama coast with their three young daughters.

Matthew Winkler's father, Dan Winkler, testified later Thursday that he talked to his daughter-in-law after her arrest. "I told her I wished I could take the handcuffs off and I could give her a big bear hug," he said.

He said Christians have a duty to forgive, but that Mary Winkler has never asked for forgiveness. He and his wife have custody of the children and have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mary Winkler.

Churches of Christ do not consider themselves a denomination since every congregation is independently governed. They generally believe the Bible should be interpreted literally and that baptism by immersion in water is essential for salvation.

Farese glared and raised his voice several times as he asked Dan Winkler questions, suggesting that Winkler was trying to turn his grandchildren against their mother and keep them separated.

"What's your personal feeling: Do you think Mary should see her children today?" Farese asked. There was a long pause, and then Farese dramatically withdrew the question and sat down.

The trial could last up to two weeks. The jury — including a Baptist minister and woman who said she had been a victim of domestic abuse — will spend that time sequestered in a small-town motel without television, radio or cell phones.

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

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