News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
MONDAY, APRIL 16, 2007

Mary Winkler  on her way to court Saturday, in Selmer, Tenn.
AP photo by Russell Ingle
Mary Winkler on her way to court Saturday, in Selmer, Tenn.

Both sides prove points in Winkler murder trial

By Beth Rucker
Associated Press Writer

SELMER, Tenn. — In the first week of testimony, prosecutors played an audiotape in which a preacher’s wife acknowledges shooting her husband, telling investigators her “ugly came out.”

But the audiotape and other evidence presented last week also highlighted the central point of Mary Winkler’s defense: She believes her husband threatened her life and was abusing her emotionally and physically.

Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, was found shot to death in the church parsonage March 22, 2006. One day later his wife was arrested on the Alabama coast, some 340 miles away from Selmer, driving in the family minivan with the couple’s three young daughters.

Austin High graduate

Prosecutors have described Matthew Winkler, a 1993 graduate of Decatur’s Austin High School, as a good father and husband. But the defense has said the evidence will show he was a dictator at home who terrorized his family and criticized his wife’s every move.

Winkler told an Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent on the audiotape that her husband had threatened her. “He said something that really scared me. I don’t know, something life-threatening,” she said, without elaborating further.

She also said her husband criticized her for “the way I walk, what I eat, everything. It was just building up to this point. I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped.”

Vanderbilt University law professor Nita Farahany, who specializes in criminal law and behavioral sciences, said it’s common for both sides to use a defendant’s initial statement as proof to build a case.

But Mary Winkler’s defense attorneys are also saying the shooting was accidental, and that doesn’t match up with a story of an abused wife snapping under pressure, Farahany said.

“It isn’t uncommon for the defense to present alternate theories, but these alternate theories seem to be in conflict,” she said.

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

Prosecutors also put bank tellers on the stand last week to prove that the Winklers were overdrawn and that Mary Winkler was trying to deposit several bad checks. The prosecution says she didn’t want to tell her husband about the money problems.

They also presented the notes from an interview in which Mary Winkler tells a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent how she shot her husband.

“I don’t remember going to the closet or getting the gun,” Winkler said, according to the notes. “The next thing I remember was hearing a loud boom, and I remember thinking it wasn’t as loud as I thought it would be.”

In the audiotape, an Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent tells Winkler that authorities know what she did to her husband and are trying to get a sense of why it happened.

She cries several times on the tape and sounds confused, but she insists at one point that she doesn’t want her husband’s name smeared.

“I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground. ... But he was so good, so good too,” she says. “Just say the lady was a moron, evil woman, and let’s go on with it.”

The prosecution will continue its case Monday. Assistant District Attorney General Walt Freeland said during his opening statement that one of the Winklers’ daughters, likely 9-year-old Patricia, would testify.

Defense attorney Leslie Ballin has hinted that Mary Winkler, too, will testify.

The trial is expected to last another week or longer. Jurors are sequestered in a small-town motel without televisions, cell phones and computers.

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

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