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Jury finds Mary Winkler guilty of voluntary manslaughter

A jury found Mary Winkler guilty of voluntary manslaughter this afternoon in the 2006 shooting death of her husband, Matthew, minister of the Fourth Street church in Selmer, Tenn.

Jury members ranged in age from 20 to 62. Eight said they were Christians, four listed no religious affiliation. The women listed occupations such as housewife, secretary, teacher’s aide and computerdesigner. The two men are a machinist and a factory worker. All arewhite.

Some wept earlier in the week when the Winklers’ oldest daughter, 9-year-old Patricia, testified for the prosecution. She said she heard a loud “boom” and then a thud, as if someone had fallen. She said when she ran into the bedroom, she saw her father lying on the floor and heard him groaning. The child said she had never seen her father mistreat her mother.

Defense attorney Steve Farese hinted during his closing testimony that his client might beguilty of a lesser charge.

“Have they proven any crime? Well — and this is hard for me to say — maybe,” Farese said. “Maybe she was negligent.”

Prosecutors had depicted a financially desperatewoman characterized by thousands of dollars in overdrafts, fraudulentdeposits and check-kiting scams at multiple banks. Mary Winklerwas so desperate to hide her money problems, prosecuting attorney WaltFreeland said, that she shot her 31-year-old husband. The day of theshooting, the Winklers were to appear at a bank meeting to discuss herfinancial schemes, bank officials testified.

Defense attorneys painted a different portrait of their client. Mary Winkler was physically, mentally, emotionally, verbally andsexually abused, they claimed. Still reeling from Post Traumatic StressDisorder caused by the loss of her handicapped sister 20 years earlier,she internalized this abuse until she could stand it no more, thedefense said. Provoked by Matthew Winkler placing his hand over themouth and nose of the couple’s toddler, they argued, she confronted himwith a gun in hopes it would force him to talk. Instead, the 12-gaugeshotgun accidentally misfired, killng him within minutes, the defensebegged the jury to believe.
Six days of testimony gave those in the courtroom— and around the globe, thanks to live, streaming video — a glimpseinto the family life of the Winklers.
Matthew Winkler grew up attending Churches of Christ from birth. So did Mary Freeman Winkler.
The case was tried in the town where Matthew Winkler died, a community of about 4,600 inMcNairy County that serves as the county seat. The church building sits just around the corner from the courthouse, in fact.
Inthe weeks leading up to the trial, Dan and Diane Winkler filed a $2million wrongful death lawsuit against Mary Winkler, which legalexperts say was a pre-emptive move to keep Mary Winkler from profitingfrom book or movie deals. The timing was likely because of a one-yearstatute of limitations.
Winkler responded by retaining a custodyattorney and filing a petition for guardianship of the girls, who havebeen in the custody of Dan and Diane Winkler since their mother’sarrest.
Dan Winkler, pulpit minister of the Huntingdon church, has repeatedly declined to comment to the Chronicle about the trial or the lawsuit. Both parents testified for the prosecution in the case, saying they saw no evidence of physical abuse in their son’s marriage.
The Winklers were among at least 10 witnesses inthe case who identified themselves as members of a Church of Christ.Six of those were prosecution witnesses. The other four — includingMary Winkler — were called by the defense.
Witnesses’ personalbeliefs about their faith became the subject of questioning andcommentary at times. Women were often asked by defense attorneys aboutgender-assigned roles or responsibilities within Churches of Christ.Men were asked about their roles as head of the household, and whetherthat meant they were the “boss” of a family.

Filed under: Staff Reports Top Stories

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