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Accused Wife of Slain Pastor Returns to Tennessee

Members of the congregation planted flowers Saturday outside the Fourth Street Church of Christ as they waited for their minister's wife to be brought home to face first-degree murder charges in the death of her husband.

The gardening project and a spring cleanup had been planned weeks ago by Matthew Winkler, the 31-year-old minister who was shot to death at the parsonage he shared with his wife, Mary, and their three young children.

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"We're doing this because Matthew wanted us to," church member James Turner said as he dug a spade into the dark soil of a flower bed. "It keeps us busy," said Jimmie Smith, a retired counselor.

Police found Mary Winkler, 32, and her daughters late Thursday about 340 miles from home in Orange Beach, Ala., where she had rented a condo.

She did not resist extradition, and Saturday afternoon McNairy County sheriff's deputies brought her to jail in Selmer, a west Tennessee town about 80 miles east of Memphis.

Mary Winkler said nothing and kept her head down as she was taken from an unmarked police car into the building.

Police said she confessed to the killing and she was charged Friday with first-degree murder, a crime that requires premeditation.

Authorities refused to disclose a motive.

"Listen, the Mary we knew didn't do this," Anita Whirley said as she planted purple, yellow and red pansies. "She was a wonderful person. We just don't understand."

Matthew Winkler was found dead in a bedroom at the couple's home in Selmer after church members went looking for him because he did not appear for a service. The parsonage is about two miles from the church in a quiet, heavily wooded neighborhood.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent John Mehr has said police know why she shot her husband, but he would not disclose the suspected motive except to say police did not believe it was infidelity. He would not comment on whether Mary Winkler had accused her husband of abuse. Court papers offered no hint of a motive.

An Alabama judge released the Winkler children — Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 — to the custody of their paternal grandparents. Mary Winkler was at the custody hearing Friday in handcuffs.

The family had moved to Selmer a year ago when Matthew Winkler was hired for his first job as the lead minister of a Church of Christ congregation. Church members described them as a devoted couple, good parents and good friends.