Mary Winkler’s state of mind key for jury now deciding her fate
Judge Weber McCraw told the jury that they may decide Mary Winkler is guilty offirst-degree murder or a lesser charge, or they may decide she committed no crime. If the jury doesn’t think the prosecution provedits casebeyond a reasonable doubt, then second degree murder can be considered,as can voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide or negligent homicide. Each carries its own burden of proof for the prosecution, as well as maximum sentence.
Six days of testimony gave those in the courtroom — and around the globe, thanks to live, streaming video — a glimpse into the family life of the Winklers.
Matthew Winkler grew up attending Churches of Christ from birth. So did Mary Carol Freeman. Each was raised in a conservative home with parents who expected them to do well in school, obey their elders and conduct themselves as Christian young people.
Each attended a university affiliated with Churches of Christ. Matthew Winkler enrolled at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., upon graduating from high school. Mary Carol Freeman chose Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., then transferred after two years to Freed-Hardmeman to pursue a teaching degree in special education.
They met at Freed-Hardeman, enjoying a three-month, whirlwind courtship before Matthew proposed. They were married on April 20, 1996 — 11 years ago Friday.
Trial testimony followed the couple through job-related moves, the births of three daughters and other life events. Family members, friends of the couple, fellow church members and Mary Winkler testified about other kinds of events and exchanges.
Mary Winkler delved into the couple’s home life. She testified that Matthew Winkler began to intimidate her to the point of domination early in their marriage. She drew a timeline over the years where that turned into — according to her allegations — him belittling her, alienating her from others she loved, physically harming her and forcing her to perform sexual acts that embarrassed and hurt her against her will. She described the allegations in detail to the court under direct testimony.
Mary Winkler asked Matthew Winkler for a divorce in 2002, she said, and he refused. She said she never tried to leave, citing threats against her as the reason why. She told no one about details of her life, she said. No witnesses corroborated her testimony. No one who testified saw injuries that Mary Winkler confirmed to them were abuse either, according to testimony.
Matthew Winkler’s parents, Dan and Diane Winkler, told jurors they knew nothing about their son and daughter-in-law struggling with their finances or their marriage. Dan Winkler, pulpit minister of the Huntingdon, Tenn., church, said his son made the decision to become a fifth-generation preacher without pressure from his parents. They said they never saw signs of abuse.
Both parents testified for the prosecution. Both sat in the courtroom listening to testimony afterward. Both cried. They went home each evening to care for their three granddaughters, Patricia, Allie and Brianna, whose custody can’t help but be affected by the outcome of their mother’s murder trial.
The Winklers were among at least 10 witnesses in the case who identified themselves as members of a Church of Christ. Six of those were prosecution witnesses. The other four — including Mary Winkler — were called by the defense.
Witnesses’ personal beliefs about their faith became the subject of questioning and commentary at times. Women were often asked by defense attorneys about gender-assigned roles or responsibilities within Churches of Christ. Men were asked about their roles as head of the household, and whether that meant they were the “boss” of a family.