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Mary Winkler ordered behind bars – for one week

Was justice done when a judge handed down a sentence Friday that returned Mary Winkler to jail – but for just seven days – in the shotgun slaying of her minister husband, Matthew? High-profile defense attorneys for the Selmer, Tenn., preacher’s wife contend that it was. “She’ll be able to get out and fight the battle she wants to, and that is to get her children back,” defense attorney Leslie Ballin said. Mary Winkler, 33, is fighting in juvenile court to regain custody of the couple’s three young daughters from her late husband’s parents, Dan and Diane Winkler. But Diane Winkler, whose husband is minister of the Huntingdon, Tenn., church, questioned the truthfulness of Mary Winkler’s claims at trial that she been sexually, emotionally and physically abused during her nine-year-marriage. Diane Winkler accused her daughter-in-law of first murdering her son, then his character. “The monster that you have painted for the world to see? I don’t think that monster ever existed,” Diane Winkler said at Friday’s sentencing hearing. Matthew Winkler’s parents have petitioned a chancery court to terminate Mary Winkler’s parental rights and allow them to adopt their granddaughters.
Judge Weber McGraw gave Mary Winkler, whose husband served as minister of the Fourth Street church in Selmer, about 80 miles east of Memphis, a three-year sentence on her voluntary manslaughter conviction. The sentence amounted to half of the maximum penalty under Tennessee law.
The McNairy County circuit judge ordered Mary Winkler to serve 210 days behind bars. She gets credit for the 143 days she had already spent in jail, leaving 67 days. McCraw said that up to 60 of the remaining days could be served in a facility where she could receive mental health treatment.
The seven days she is expected to serve in the McNairy County jail began when she was taken into custody after sentencing. Upon her release, she will be on probation for three years.
Matthew Winkler, 31, was found dead by Fourth Street church members on March 22, 2006, in the church-owned home the Winklers occupied with their three children. His wife fled with couple’s three young daughters, and she was arrested the next day about 470 miles away in Orange Beach, Ala.
She was charged on March 24, 2006, and remained in the McNairy County Jail until posting $750,000 bond on Aug. 15, 2006.
After a first-degree murder trial in which prosecutors sought a life sentence, jurors convicted Mary Winkler of the lesser felony crime in April.
Represented by a high-profile defense team that offered its services pro-bono, Winkler successfully and single-handedly convinced jurors that she had been abused during her marriage. The case drew national media attention.
Before sentencing, letters were offered on Winkler’s behalf from several individuals, including minister Wayne Cantrell of the 120-member Arlington church in McMinnville, Tenn., where Mary Winkler now worships.
She had asked the judge for full probation or judicial diversion, which would eventually have cleared her record of the conviction. She also asked to be reunited with her daughters.
“Whatever sentence you give me can never punish me enough,” Mary Winkler told McCraw. “I’ve suffered the loss of someone I loved. I’ve lost my freedom. I’ve lost my children, and I’ve had my life be put on public display.
“I think of Matthew every day, and the guilt, and I always miss him and love him,” Winkler said, reading from a handwritten statement. “I hope this situation sheds light on unhealthy relationships, and that others will find the strength and have the courage to seek help before such a tragedy occurs again.
“I think of that every day, that I feel like I failed him by not being able to help.”
McCraw denied her requests, noting that Matthew Winkler was shot in the back, possibly while sleeping, and left to die without medical attention.
Matthew Winkler’s mother and a brother told the court that those actions have caused the couple’s children to fear for their lives as they continue to mourn their father.
Diane Winkler also berated Mary Winkler for lying to her daughters about their father’s death.
Diane Winkler testified that the girls, now 9, 7 and 2, were having nightmares about people with guns breaking into their house.
“You’ve never told your girls you’re sorry. Don’t you think you at least owe them that?” Mary Winkler’s mother-in-law asked at the hearing.
Dan Winkler said after the sentencing that the family would not comment.
June 10, 2007

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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