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Winkler trial: No justice for some
Decatur friends say slain minister did not get day in court

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

Matthew Winkler did not get his day in court, said Decatur friends of the minister whose wife admitted shooting him in March 2006.

On Thursday a jury in Selmer, Tenn., found Matthew Winkler's wife, Mary, 33, guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a punishment of three to six years in prison. Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction.

One family friend, Dr. Charles Elliott of Decatur, said the trial outcome seemed like Matthew Winkler "being shot in the back all over again."

Matthew Winkler graduated from Austin High School in 1993. His classmates voted him "Mr. Austin," and he played linebacker on the football team. His father, Dan Winkler, was the preacher at Beltline Church of Christ from 1988 to 1994.

Mary Winkler testified that she did not intentionally shoot her husband in the parsonage in Selmer but only meant to confront him. She said she suffered abuse from her husband. She said the shotgun went off accidentally as she pointed it at him.

Elliott knew Matthew Winkler growing up.

"I think Matthew's good name and reputation, and those of his family, were given a great disservice," Elliott said.

An elder at the Beltline church, Elliott said he does not believe Mary Winkler's testimony about suffering abuse from her husband. Elliott said research shows most abusers have been subjected to abuse at home or exhibited such behavior in youth.

"That was not true in the Winkler home," Elliott said.

In trial testimony, Rudolf Thomsen III, a member of a church Matthew Winkler served as youth minister, said he saw Mary
Winkler with a black eye but she said it happened during horseplay with her daughters. A psychologist testified that Mary Winkler suffered from mild depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Portrayal unfair?

Jack Zeanah, a deacon at Beltline, also said he does not believe justice was served.

Zeanah said he was not at the trial, but has been in touch with family members during the ordeal. He said his children and the Winklers grew up together and they stayed close through the years. Zeanah said he attended Matthew and Mary's wedding.

Knowing the family, Zeanah said, the trial didn't portray the Winklers as they really were. He said the boys had a strict rearing and were taught respect for wives and mothers.

Elliott said that whatever disagreements Matthew and Mary Winkler had in their marriage, Matthew did not deserve Mary rendering her own version of "capital punishment."

He wondered that if her mental state could deteriorate to the point she shot her husband, then would she be stable enough to care for their three daughters after getting out of prison.

Both Zeanah and Elliott said if Mary Winkler were being abused by Matthew, if she had gone to her father-in-law, he would have confronted his son.

They said the congregation has prayed for the Winklers and Mary throughout the ordeal. Dan Winkler and his wife, Diane, now live in Huntingdon, Tenn.

The elder Winkler family's concern hasn't been for themselves but for the granddaughters' well being, Zeanah said. He said he's sure the couple didn't have any idea that near retirement they would be caring for three children.

A trust fund has been established at a Tennessee bank for the daughters, who are in custody of their Winkler grandparents. Beltline Church of Christ has information for anyone wishing to contribute, Zeanah said.

What the family most needs is prayer, said both the deacon and elder.

Dan Winkler said in a statement after the trial that God was "our rock and our shield" during the trial.

Sentencing for Mary Winkler will be May 18.

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